DURHAM, N.H. — For most of the contest it looked like the win was in the bag for New Hampshire.
Friday night the Wildcats jumped out to an early 2-0 lead and still held a 3-1 advantage after two periods. Lake Superior State, however, turned the game around in the third on goals by Jason Nightingale and Chad Dahlen.
The momentum shift proved short-lived. Just 51 seconds after Dahlen tied the game, Matt Swain scored the game-winner on a screened shot from the point. It was his second goal of the game and fourth of the year.
“We had some chances to put the game away and we didn’t do it,” said UNH coach Dick Umile. “We took some stupid penalties. If we’d stayed out of the penalty box, it would have been different.
“But the guys battled back and we found a way to win.”
For his part, LSSU coach Scott Borek wasn’t too happy about the winning goal, but not just for the obvious reason.
“It was offsides by five feet,” he said. Borek then added, “But that wasn’t why we lost.
“We started the game nervous and tentative and over-respected their speed. We lost the game early by leaving huge gaps [in our defensive coverage]. They have great speed, but we made it look even better. We were giving up the defensive blue line.
“When there’s that much room on the [Olympic-sized] ice, you tend to back up instead of closing down on them. That’s what they do — [close down on you]. So we took a page out of their book and I thought we were playing quite well in the third.
“We expended too much energy coming back.”
Indeed, UNH dominated the opening minutes, creating excellent scoring chances by Swain, Josh Prudden and Jeff Haydar before grabbing the lead at 3:19. Swain won a faceoff cleanly back to Lanny Gare, who ripped a shot past LSSU goaltender Jayme Platt.
A penalty then slowed the Wildcats down, but only briefly. Shortly after getting back to even strength, they broke into the offensive zone three-on-two. Gare curled toward the right boards, drawing the defensive attention, and then slid a pass to Swain, sending him in alone on Platt. Swain deked and stuffed it in to go up, 2-0, just 6:44 into the game.
With the game starting to look like a potential blowout, Lake State rallied, helped by another UNH penalty. Goaltender Ty Conklin made a nice stacked-pad save on Ryan Vince, but seconds later Jeremy Bachusz scored from in front off a centering pass from Mike Vigilante by way of Jason Nightingale. The goal, Bachusz’s first of the year, narrowed the gap to 2-1.
The second period was dominated by referee John Gravellese’s whistle. Seven non-matching penalties were called and both sides had five-on-three power plays of roughly half a minute.
UNH got the first such advantage early in the stanza and capitalized. After Platt made two strong saves, Garrett Stafford and Jim Abbott traded passes at the point, moving closer and closer to the net. At 5:41, Abbott fired through a Gare screen for a 3-1 lead.
Gravellese evened up the five-on-three advantages at 7:29, but Lake Superior didn’t get its best chance until the two-man advantage was gone and only five seconds were left on the five-on-four power play. Two Wildcat forwards had taken off on a shorthanded rush and gotten caught up-ice on the transition.
As a result, Aaron Phillips broke in on Conklin all alone, deked and apparently had the netminder down and out. Apparently. Conklin, however, reached back and made a highlight film save. Fans at the Whittemore Center crowd responded with “We’re not worthy” bows.
UNH’s 3-1 lead seemed safe in the third period, given its territorial edge and the strong play of Conklin. But the Lakers weren’t finished yet.
A UNH penalty at 5:32 proved costly. On the resulting power play, Aaron Davis fired from the left point and Nightingale deflected it in for his fifth goal of the young season.
A minute later, Laker forwards Chris Peterson and Chris McNamara broke two-on-one, but Conklin stopped Peterson’s original shot and then a second off the rebound.
The momentum wasn’t entirely in Lake State’s favor, though. First Mark White and then David Busch had excellent chances.
When Dahlen shot’s from the right point deflected off a body in front to tie the game at 3-3 with 3:30 left, however, the momentum clearly had gone to the Lakers.
For 51 seconds. Fickle soul that momentum is, UNH stole it back for good on Swain’s game-winner. Covering at one point for a defenseman who had moved up on the rush, the senior moved down as far as the top of the circle and fired.
“It just popped out to me,” said Swain. “I thought it would hit some shin pads in front because there were some guys right there.”
On the downside for the Wildcats, however, UNH freshman defenseman Tim Horst suffered a knee sprain and is expected to be out for three weeks.
Saturday, UNH (3-0-1) hosts Miami, another CCHA representative, while Lake Superior State (3-1-0) travels to Providence.