PROVIDENCE, R.I. — Sunday’s final regular season meeting between No. 8 New Hampshire and Providence didn’t look like it would come down to the final seconds as the Friars took a 4-0 lead early in the third period. But the Wildcats changed that by scoring three goals in the final 8:04, and UNH captain Steph Jones’ final rush to the net was stopped dead on Amy Thomas’ outstretched pads in the 4-3 Friar victory.
“They got their goals early and we just kind of ran out of time today,” Jones said. “I think if we had one more second, I could have gotten a good shot in the end.”
The Friars (17-10-5, 12-4-2 Hockey East) moved into a first-place tie with UNH (19-7-6, 11-3-4) in the Hockey East standings and clinched the season series. UNH would have clinched the league’s No. 1 seed with a victory. Now instead Providence can clinch it with a sweep of last place Northeastern next weekend.
The Wildcats fell to 0-2-2 in their last four games as they continue to struggle with injuries. UNH, with just three regular defenseman healthy, has resorted to using freshman Jackie Wedster on the blue line. The Wildcats’ lack of depth showed as they played Providence even for the first half before crumbling down the stretch of the second period.
“We just don’t have any depth,” said UNH coach Brian McCloskey. “I would attribute our play in the second where we really looked bad to just fatigue,”
At 12:54 of the second period, Providence freshman Cherie Hendrickson scored the game’s first goal in transition on a Hilary Greaves pass from the end line. Rush Zimmerman scored unassisted a few minutes later when she was left free to circle into the crease for the 2-0 lead.
Providence gave UNH every opportunity to get back into the game by surrendering a 5-on-3, but Greaves turned the tables by stealing the puck at the blue line, rushing the net and drawing a penalty shot. Given the second chance, Greaves drew UNH goalie Melissa Bourdon low and buried the puck in the top right corner for the 3-0 lead entering the second intermission.
“That was the exclamation mark for how bad our second period was,” McCloskey said. “It’s not just that we didn’t score. We didn’t do anything with it but pass it around.”
Providence freshman Rachel Crissy scored on a one-timer on a 4-on-3 early in the third period to make it a 4-0 lead.
“I’ve seen a lot more consistency from all of our players, especially our freshmen,” said Providence coach Bob Deraney. “I think it’s the fact that we’ve had some continuity now. We’ve had a consistent line up for three weeks, which we haven’t had all year long.”
The Friars seemed to have the game in hand, but they gave up their security by taking two penalties in quick succession. On a delayed call, UNH freshman Jennifer Hitchcock put in a shot from the slot with 8:04 left. UNH freshman Taylor Palazeti did the same from the left faceoff circle shortly thereafter for another power play goal and a 4-2 deficit.
“One of our Achilles heels is taking penalties,” Deraney said. “You have a 4-0 lead the most important thing is to stay out of the box.”
Nicole Hekle beat a defender and scored on a powerful drive to the net to make it 4-3 with just over a minute to go, but it proved to be too little, too late. Thomas finished 25 saves, and Bourdon had 21.
“We’re both going to capitalize on each others mistakes,” said Providence sophomore Sonny Watrous. “That’s what makes playing UNH such a good game because it’s evenly matched.”
Deraney said the Friars still haven’t played their best game yet and next weekend will provide another opportunity. The opponent Northeastern took Providence to overtime in a previous meeting, so the Friars know the week won’t be a cakewalk.
UNH, much like No. 3 Dartmouth, has struggled down the stretch with a short roster. The Wildcats can only hope they will be healthier when the Hockey East tournament roles around.
“I still think we’re the best team in this league and I think we’ll prove it at the end of the year,” McCloskey said.