DURHAM, N.H. — Change-up gaffe. Cost: Game 2.
Wide-open opportunity late in the third period, but shot over the net. Cost: Potentially, Game 3.
Scoring the game-winner just seconds later. Priceless.
Redemption was sweet for Preston Callander, whose goal with 2:38 left in regulation gave New Hampshire a 1-0 win in the deciding game of its Hockey East quarterfinal series with Providence. In Game 2, Callander’s ill-advised change-up had given Providence the two-on-one break it needed to win in overtime.
And several missed opportunities in this contest added to the frustration level, culminating in his late-game shot over not only the net, but also the glass, from the right post. His atonement would take only seconds more, however, as he made no mistake on Jacob Micflikier’s pass to the left post.
“If I had missed that, I probably would have quit hockey,” Callander said.
Which is about how he had felt seconds earlier.
“I’m taking the blame for that OT goal,” he said about the Game 2 mistake. “That was my man that scored. With the frustration level from last night, I couldn’t eat, I couldn’t sleep. I didn’t want it to slip away again. After that ‘field goal’ shot I put over the glass, I thought it was happening again.
“[But] I just went to the net and Micflikier made a beautiful pass to me. He couldn’t have passed it any better. I just had an easy tap-in.”
As a result, New Hampshire advances to the FleetCenter where it will play Massachusetts in a rematch of last year’s Hockey East semifinals. UNH will be seeking its third straight league title. In the other contest, Maine faces Boston University.
Callander’s goal capped off a third period in which UNH outshot the Friars, 11-4, taking over the territorial play in what had been an even, tight game.
“Their experience showed down the stretch,” PC coach Paul Pooley said, his team’s season ended. “These kids have won a lot of hockey games, the seniors here [at UNH]. It’s a learning process for us.
“I felt waiting for one chance to score — bending but not breaking and then breaking them down that once — was the way we were going to win the game.”
UNH coach Dick Umile echoed the importance of the experience factor. “I told the guys in the locker room, the upperclassmen, that they’d been there before and hopefully their experience could get us through the game. Our junior and senior class have been through a lot. They made the little plays, had composure with the puck and found a way to win.”
With the victory, goaltender Mike Ayers becomes the all-time UNH leader with 58 career wins, breaking his tie with Ty Conklin. The shutout was his fifth of this season and the 13th of his career.
“It was a great team win,” he said. “I felt as though I was a big reason we didn’t win that game last night so I did a lot of thinking last night and this morning. Then after breakfast I just let it get out of my head and just focused on tonight. I just wanted to be there for my teammates.”
The two teams played the opening period close to the vest, befitting its win-or-out stature. Opportunities developed, primarily off power-play shots from the point that became deflection attempts. None could find an opening, however, although one Tim Horst shot did clang off the crossbar after goaltender Bobby Goepfert got a piece of it.
Additionally, Sean Collins hit Steve Saviano for an early partial break and, at the other end, Cody Loughlean forced a big Ayers save on the weak-side post. On the whole, however, the shot charts were almost completely bereft of any marks in the slots at both ends.
With few exceptions, the play didn’t open up any more in the second period as both sides could muster only six shots on net. The lone major exception, however, almost became decisive. At 10:35, Stephen Wood scored what appeared to be a highlight-reel goal when he held the puck, cutting down toward the right goal line, for what seemed like an eternity until he could wrist it into the open short side. Referee Tim Benedetto waved the goal off, however, ruling goaltender interference and even assessed a Providence penalty to boot.
“I’ll have to see it on tape,” Pooley said. “I hope it’s a penalty because that was a great play and would have given us the first goal.”
Later in the period, PC’s Mike Robinson challenged on the doorstep, but Ayers again came up big.
Early in the third, UNH went on the power play, exerted tremendous pressure and generated several grade A chances, culminating in a Robbie Barker shot that hit the post. When it was all said and done, however, the score remained goose eggs.
Minutes later, a Callander shot hit the post and even had UNH players contending after a whistle that it had gone in the net, but to no avail. Little more than a minute later, Chase Watson clanged iron at the other end in one of the few Friar chances.
More and more, however, the pressure was in the UNH offensive zone with Goepfert making one big save after another until finally Callander came through.