AMHERST, Mass. — UMass-Amherst was officially eliminated from the Hockey East playoffs Tuesday night by a New Hampshire team that was fighting for a much loftier position than its cellar-dwelling opponents.
“We had something at stake tonight as well,” Dick Umile said after his Wildcats dealt the Minutemen a 6-0 fatal blow to their playoff chances. “We’re trying to keep pace and stay ahead of BU.”
Colin Hemingway’s power-play goal at 13:14 of the opening period ended up being enough for Michael Ayers, who made 26 saves for a shutout in his first game back from injury.
The Wildcats got a gift from referee Tim Benedetto when he whistled Tim Turner for a high-sticking penalty after Lanny Gare threw off one of his gloves, tackled Turner and buried his head in the ice.
Both players got a double-minor for roughing but the extra pair on the UMass forward gave the first-ranked power-play unit in Hockey East the chance to take a 1-0 lead in a period in which they were clearly outplayed.
UNH, as good teams do, took full advantage just 1:12 into the extra man opportunity. Hemingway got his 27th goal of the year off a short-side rebound from Darren Haydar’s wrist shot.
Both teams fired 12 shots in the period but the Minutemen were the team to garner the most chances in the final 10 minutes.
That changed rather quickly in the second period when the Wildcats buried four goals in the first 10 minutes, bringing the hook on senior goaltender Mike Johnson, in favor of rookie Tim Warner.
Tallies by Patrick Foley, Steve Saviano, Justin Aikins and Hemingway busted the game open for the No. 3 Wildcats.
“There were just a couple minutes in the second period where we broke the game open,” Umile said. “We had some good scoring chances and we put them away. It all happened pretty quick.”
Aikins and Saviano scored 1:14 apart to give UNH a 3-0 lead, but it was Patrick Foley’s blue line slapshot that took Johnson out of the game.
With the Wildcats clinging to a one-goal advantage, UMass freshman defenseman Dusty Demaniuk coughed the puck in his own zone. Ed Caron collected the favor and threaded a goalmouth feed to Aikins who banged it home for a 2-0 lead.
Saviano followed with a skillful touch off of a Darren Haydar slapshot from the right wing that all but put the game away.
Warner performed admirably in Johnson’s stead, making eight saves and allowing only one goal, a third period breakaway by Jim Abbott.
The Minutemen will finish out their season on Sunday against eighth-place Merrimack, while UNH faces a tough weekend series against Boston College as it attempts to solidify the top seed in the upcoming Hockey East tourney.