PROVIDENCE, R.I. — No. 2 New Hampshire learned its lesson the hard way Friday night: you can play with fire once and get away with it, but eventually it will catch up with you.
Three nights after falling behind, 2-0, but rallying with two late goals to salvage a tie against No. 3 Boston College, a tired-looking UNH team fell behind, 6-2, in the third period to Providence and had its rally efforts fall short as the Friars hung on for a 7-4 victory in front of a vocal crowd of 2,875 at Providence’s Schneider Arena.
“We didn’t help ourselves tonight,” said UNH coach Dick Umile. “We turned the puck over like crazy all night and we can’t do that… We were getting embarrassed, and at least we fought back and got a chance.”
Providence head coach Paul Pooley felt the win was a complete game for his club, keeping things simple — exactly the game plan he asked his team to execute.
“The objective going into the game was to keep the game simple,” said Pooley. “UNH has some exceptional players in terms of eye-hand coordination that can knock the puck down. So our game plan was to mark the board and the glass up [with pucks].
“When we got away from that a couple of times we got our pocket picked and that could’ve cost us.”
Keying the attack for the Friars was the second line of Chris Chaput (goal, two assists) Torry Gajda (two goals, assist) and Jonathan Goodwin (goal, two assists). The combo hooked up for a goal in the first, both PC goals in the second, and a key tally in the third.
“They were our first line tonight, I’ll tell you that,” laughed Pooley. “They all had great games tonight and stepped up for us, and now we need someone else to do that tomorrow night.”
Entering the game, it appeared to be a goaltending dual with two of the league’s best, UNH’s Michael Ayers (14 saves) and Providence’s Bobby Goepfert (35 saves), between the pipes. Both goaltenders, though, looked shaky at times, with Ayers being lifted in the third period in favor of sophomore Jeff Pietrasiak (four saves).
Umile, though, wouldn’t blame his starter.
“The way we were handling the puck, we were just standing around,” said Umile. “We were just allowing them to shoot pucks at Michael Ayers.”
A sluggish first period was marked by 33 minutes in penalties whistled by referee John Gravellese, including a five-minute major and game disqualification to Providence’s Colin McDonald just 94 seconds into the game. Less than six minutes of hockey were played five-on-five, and to no one’s surprise, all of the goals were scored on special teams.
The Friars opened the scoring while killing McDonald’s major as Jonathan Goodwin buried a shorthanded tally. Picking up a puck at his own blue line, the senior skated the length of the ice and blasted a shot from the right faceoff dot over the glove of Ayers.
“That goal was huge,” said Pooley. “It gave us a little bit of a boost and a cushion [with UNH still on the power play].”
That cushion was necessary, too, as UNH’s Sean Collins scored his fourth goal of the season on the same power play. Collins buried a rebound off the boards in back of the PC net, catching Goepfert off guard.
The Friars, though, regained the lead at 13:30 when Peter Zingoni scored during a four-on-four. Similar to the first Friar goal, Zingoni snapped off a shot from the right faceoff circle that eluded Ayers, sneaking between his arm and body.
The second period became more free-skating as penalty minutes reduced and scoring chances increased. The flow of the game favored the Friars, as became evident on the scoreboard.
Providence extended the lead to 3-1 at 5:14 when Chaput buried a second rebound of a Gajda shot off the right post. Providence then moved ahead 4-1 when three Friars were left untouched below the faceoff dots on the power play and Gajda finished off the play at 13:42.
But before the period ended a power play sparked the Wildcat offense, which outshot Providence, 14-8, in the frame and 6-0 in the final four minutes. Just as the Providence penalty expired, Wildcat Eddie Caron gained speed after taking a pass from Brian Yandle and whipped by a PC defenseman, backhanding a shot over the blocker of Goepfert at 17:18 to pull within two.
If UNH had any thought of making it two straight third-period comebacks, though, that was erased as Providence opened the third by scoring twice in 12 seconds to take a 6-2 lead.
The first came on the power play at 1:05 as Stephen Wood one-timed a shot that beat Ayers five-hole, with Nate Meyers setting a screen in front. The stellar second line struck next when Gajda scored his second of the night, picking a rebound out of midair and batting it in the net.
The goal not only put the game away for Providence, but also spelled the end of Ayers, who was replaced by Pietrasiak.
UNH’s attempted rally began when Steve Saviano picked up this 10th goal of the season at 5:15, firing a shot from the corner on the power play that deflected off Goepfert, into the air and over the netminder’s head. And Pat Foley scored his first goal and point of the season deflecting a Yandle shot less than three minutes later to pull the Wildcats within two.
That, though, was where the comeback ended as Goepfert came alive late with key saves down the stretch and Bill McCreary scored his first collegiate goal into an empty net with 35 seconds remaining to account for the 7-4 final.
The win improves Providence’s record to 6-2-2 (2-2-2 Hockey East), while UNH suffers its first league loss and falls to 6-2-1 (3-1-1 Hockey East).
UNH will get a well-deserved break until next Friday when it opens a home-and-home series with Northeastern on the road. Providence remains home Saturday night when Massachusetts travels to town.