DURHAM, N.H. — The Providence Friars might have thought that they had the New Hampshire Wildcats right where they wanted them. In the opener of the home-and-home series one night earlier, the Friars entered the third period down, 1-0, but came away with a 3-1 win.
UNH was also in the middle of a three-game losing streak, one in which the final 20 minutes had been its downfall. In that stretch, the Wildcats had failed to score even a single third-period goal.
So when Providence scored at 9:23 of the third to tie the game, 1-1, it looked like deja vu might be at work. Instead, an extra shove by PC captain Matt Libby led to a borderline penalty called by referee John Gravallese and a key power-play tally. Goals by Johnny Rogers and Mick Mounsey provided an extra cushion and the eventual 4-1 margin.
The win gave New Hampshire (6-3-1, 2-2-0 HEA) a split of the weekend series with Providence (5-2-1, 2-1-1 HEA).
“It’s nice to get back in the win column,” said UNH coach Dick Umile. “The guys hung in there. Going into the third period it was a real gut check for us. [It was] a character win because of what’s happened to us the last three or four games in the third period. We’ve played well, but come out with zero goals in the third period.”
Providence coach Paul Pooley had liked his team’s chances after Devin Rask roofed a shot from in close to tie it in the third, 1-1.
“I was very excited going into the third period, 1-0, because I thought if we scored one, we’d have the momentum,” he said. “UNH had lost three in a row. …We played very well, but then took a penalty and they scored on the power play. We’ve got to learn that when we come back like that, we just can’t take a penalty.
“I’m not going to comment on the officiating because that’s not my place, but that’s the way it is. … It was a tough penalty.
“Give them credit. They scored a couple power-play goals after that and found a way to win.”
Goaltender Ty Conklin earned the No. 1 star of the game with several exceptional stops in the third that kept Providence off the board until Rask finally broke through.
“Conklin made a couple huge saves at the start of the third period,” said Pooley. “Just huge. That gave their team a chance to stay in it because I thought we were on them pretty good. That’s why he’s an All-American.”
For Conklin, it marked a return to form after some mediocre performances.
“I wasn’t happy with the way I was playing,” he said. “I’d have a good period or two and then I’d have a shaky period. I’ve always prided myself on being consistent, but I was going through a lot of peaks and valleys the first six, seven, eight games. But I’ve felt a lot better the last two or three games. I felt like this was my best game in a while.”
Ironically, the Wildcats’ biggest third-period boost besides Conklin came from a power play that entered the game with an anemic 13.3% conversion rate and failed in four opportunities in the first 40 minutes.
“We’ve had a lot of zone time, but obviously we’re not putting the puck in the net,” said Umile. “We’re getting shots outside that aren’t getting to the net for whatever reason. We just got fortunate tonight that we scored one at a key time just after they tied the game up.”
UNH opened the game with a territorial advantage and converted it into a 1-0 lead at 9:28. The puck caromed to Jeff Haydar in the slot and his wrister beat Nolan Schaefer low to the glove side. It was Haydar’s first collegiate goal.
“I feel 100 pounds lighter right now,” said Haydar. “It’s a big monkey off my back.”
The Wildcats then had an opportunity to widen their margin on power plays at 12:24 and 15:05, but their season-long problems on the man advantage were still two periods away from being resolved.
The Friars would get the next two power plays, one in the first period and the other early in the second, but similarly could not convert. During the first, however, they came close when a Marc Suderman shot hit both posts before caroming wide.
Past the midway point of the second period, UNH put together a stretch of sustained pressure only to see the game almost evened at 14:00. A Cody Loughlean shot from 15 feet got through Conklin, but was “saved” by defenseman Mark White.
In the final minute of the second, New Hampshire almost broke through on the power play, but Lanny Gare’s shot hit the post.
Conklin evoked displays of “We’re not worthy!” from the sold-out Whittemore Center crowd early in the third, beginning with a three-on-one and continuing into a PC power play. When he stoned Peter Fregoe from in close, the Friar pounded the glass in frustration, much to the added delight of the UNH faithful. Seconds later, Conklin flashed a glove on a labeled shot from the slot by Suderman.
Rask’s strike evened the score, however, with three seconds left on a PC power play and it was anyone’s game.
Garrett Stafford got the lead back for the Wildcats barely a minute later on the man advantage resulting from Libby’s penalty. A shot from the point by Darren Haydar banked off the back boards to Stafford, who had cut down from the point and put it past Nolan Schaefer.
At 12:55, Johnny Rogers tipped in a Jeff Haydar shot for a 3-1 lead and the game was over for all practical purposes.
A surfeit of penalties followed and Mounsey got his first collegiate goal on a shot from the left point on another power play.