March 22, 2014

UNH 3, Providence 1: Wildcats find their way back to title game

By Joshua Kummins

While Casey DeSmith (left, Rochester, N.H.) held things down in net, Kevin Goumas, right, staked UNH to an early lead and the Wildcats never looked back in Friday night's Hockey East semifinals. (Dave Arnold/New England Hockey Journal)

Final: New Hampshire 3, Providence 1

Recap: New Hampshire had much of the offensive pressure in the opening period but neither team was able to crack the scoreboard. One of the best chances in the frame came midway through as UNH senior Nick Sorkin broke in ahead of the Providence defense, but shot high and just wide from the wing.

The second period, however, was a different story and the Wildcats ended it with a commanding 3-0 lead.

Senior Kevin Goumas scored shorthanded for the second time this season, stuffing a loose puck past PC sophomore Jon Gillies (South Portland, Maine) at 7:05 to give UNH a 1-0 lead.

At 13:31, senior Justin Agosta launched a shot from the point on goal to propel the ’Cats by two goals. Agosta’s shot found its way through traffic, off the leg of Providence defender Kevin Hart (Cumberland, Maine) and past Gillies.

Goumas beat the buzzer with 0.4 seconds remaining in the second for UNH’s third goal, taking a lively rebound off the end board and tucking it by Gillies hugging against the post. 

The Friars showed signs of life as their fourth line mustered some offense to break UNH junior Casey DeSmith’s (Rochester, N.H.) shutout bid at 3:22 of the third period. Sophomore Kevin Rooney (Canton, Mass.) took a beautiful centering pass from junior Drew Brown in front for his third goal of the year and first since Dec. 20, 2013 at Army.

Records: New Hampshire 22-17-1, Providence 19-10-6

Key Play of the Game: Goals in the first and last minutes of a period are deflating, and Goumas’ second goal of the game at the buzzer just about deflated the Friars. The lively bounce off the board behind the net found its way to the Long Island native at the side for the easy tap-in. UNH was a bit quieter on offense in the third period, but its early effort got the job done.

Kummins’ Commendations: After a fairly lazy first period, UNH took control in the middle frame in all facets of the game. The Wildcats dominated offensively with a 17-9 shot advantage, while the defense kept all but two of Providence’s chances outside the faceoff dots.

Kummins’ Critiques: The game was very clean with just four minor penalties (with little opportunity on those chances) but Providence was unable to take advantage of its chances in the third period. After an abysmal second period, the Friars in the third and had 12 of the 17 shots on goal with most coming inside the Grade-A area.

Notes: UNH has not played for a Hockey East title since it lost to Boston College in 2007, and hasn’t won the league crown since an epic 1-0 win over Boston University in overtime in 2003. ... The loss snaps a six-game winning streak for Providence, which was the fourth-longest active in the nation entering the night and the Friars’ longest since 2005-06.

Final Thoughts: DeSmith got better and better as the game went on for the Wildcats, finishing the night with 25 stops, including 11 in the final period. The win has added significance for UNH, which can only advance to the NCAA Tournament by winning the Hockey East title. UMass Lowell, Providence and Notre Dame are all well inside the PairWise bubble.

Next: The Wildcats are headed to the Hockey East final for the eighth time and will face UMass-Lowell with the Lamoriello Trophy on the line for the first time. Faceoff is 7 p.m. Saturday night at the Garden.

Twitter: @JoshuaKummins