DURHAM, N.H. — It was the goaltending equivalent of having the hair of the dog that bit him.
Matt Carney not only returned to the New Hampshire lineup just when the Wildcats needed him most, he faced the same Providence team that had sent him to the sidelines with a concussion exactly four weeks ago. The Friars won that contest, 4-3, but Carney exacted his revenge Sunday with 21 saves on 23 shots for a 5-2 win.
To be fair, it was primarily a team win, symbolized by scoring from all four lines and superior defense, that minimized Carney’s workload. Nonetheless, the senior’s return became a matter of major importance when UNH’s other member of the goaltending rotation, Michael Ayers, was lost for 3-to-6 weeks following surgery to repair a tendon injured last weekend.
“I felt good,” Carney said. “It’s just little things like screens and some crease movement [that] was a little not-there-yet. But by next Friday, I should be there. I only had one week of practice before this.
“The team played great…. Our team’s defense is so good, sometimes the goalies don’t get to see the puck for 10 minutes.”
Darren Haydar’s empty-net goal, his second tally of the game and 26th of the year, gave him his 200th career point. It also moved him back into the nation’s scoring lead with 57 points, leapfrogging St. Cloud’s Mark Hartigan while also tying him for the top goalscoring mark.
With the win, New Hampshire (20-5-3, 12-3-3 HEA) solidified its hold on first place in Hockey East, opening a three-point margin over Boston University. It was UNH’s only game of the weekend, propitious scheduling in light of Carney’s situation as well as a Haydar bad ankle that relegated him to right wing rather than center, where he has played all year.
The loss dropped Providence (13-14-4, 8-9-2 HEA) below .500, which had been its high-water mark this season. The Friars remain in sixth place with 18 points, sandwiched between Northeastern (20) and Boston College (15).
“[Carney's] teammates certainly rallied around him,” said PC coach Paul Pooley. “Obviously, he hadn’t played for a month and has had only one week of practice. I’m sure he hasn’t been on the bike or anything. Because he had a concussion, his exercise was going to be limited.
“That’s why I was disappointed to miss the net [so much]…. We missed too many nets too many times tonight. When [UNH] gets chances, they’re putting them on net. We missed a lot of shots and couldn’t create rebounds.”
New Hampshire had the better of things early, leading up to Colin Hemingway’s goal at 5:07 off a drop pass by Josh Prudden.
Carney faced his first real tester more than 11 minutes into the period when he had to flash his glove hand on a Drew Omicioli shot from the left faceoff dot.
A minute later, the netminder faced a challenge of a difference sort — a physical and mental one — when Jon DiSalvatore and Peter Fregoe crashed the net. Carney emerged unscathed, however, delivering “love taps” with his stick to both players’ shins.
The Friars continued to crash the net hard, but had to pay at 13:24 when five penalties were assessed with Cody Loughlean emerging with the extra one for instigating. Haydar capitalized on the resulting power play. Exchanging passes from the high slot with Tyson Teplitsky at the top of the right faceoff circle, Haydar let loose a one-timer that was blocked, but then followed a Sean Collins shot to the crease where Haydar put in the rebound.
UNH would finish the period with a 13-7 shot advantage as well as the 2-0 lead.
“Coming out scoring early was important,” said UNH coach Dick Umile. “It changes the game for them and they can’t sit back and play a defensive game.”
The second stanza would see a similar 16-9 margin, but this time both sides would score once.
Providence narrowed the score to 2-1 when Jon DiSalvatore won a battle for the puck along the end boards and centered to Peter Fregoe who one-timed it in. At this point, the Friars put together their best territorial play, but within three minutes UNH restored the two-goal margin on a Patrick Foley along-the-ice backhander from the slot that froze PC netminder Nolan Schaefer.
At 3:09 of the third, Providence again got to within striking range when Carney displayed his only real bit of rustiness, allowing a Jeff Mason goal from above the top of the right faceoff circle to make it 3-2.
Just 17 seconds later, however, Jim Abbott provided the backbreaking reply. Splitting the Friar defense after taking a pass through center ice from Tyler Scott, Abbott broke in on Schaefer and, as he was being taken down, roofed it for his fourth goal of the year.
Haydar’s empty-netter came at 18:56 to close out any lingering Friar hopes.
New Hampshire returns to action next weekend with a home-and-home series against Northeastern. Providence hosts Maine for two games.