DURHAM, N.H. — New Hampshire rebounded from an early one-goal deficit, scoring four times in the second period to post an impressive 6-1 win over Northeastern. Holding the territorial advantage throughout, the high-scoring Wildcats couldn’t capitalize initially, but tallied six unanswered goals to draw first blood in the best-of-three quarterfinal series.
“We just got beat,” Northeastern coach Bruce Crowder said. “We got beat to loose pucks. We got beat on the power play. We got beat on the penalty kill. We just got beat.”
It was a sobering loss for Northeastern (15-17-5), which had accumulated numerous wins over nationally-ranked opponents while playing the nation’s fourth-toughest schedule.
At the same time, it was every bit of an exhilarating win for New Hampshire (23-9-5). The Wildcats had recorded only a single point out of four in the previous two weekends against Boston College and Boston University to see the Hockey East regular-season title slip through their fingers.
“I was pleased with our overall game tonight,” UNH coach Dick Umile said. “We played well from start to finish.”
The Wildcats entered the game with the second-best power play in the country, converting 24 percent of the time, and did nothing to tarnish that reputation. They converted three of five advantages at the same time that their penalty-killing brethren were blanking Northeastern, 0-for-4. The power-play shot disparity was a stunning 16-2.
“We feel pretty confident every time we step on the ice on the power play,” Sean Collins said. “In the playoffs, special teams are going to lead you. If you can do pretty well on your penalty kill and score a couple power-play goals, you’ve got a pretty good recipe for success.”
UNH came into the game as the favorite, a status befitting not only its national ranking and home-ice advantage but also recent dominance in the series. The Wildcats had swept the Huskies the last two years and hadn’t lost to them at the Whittemore Center since Feb. 28, 1998.
The opening minutes appeared to portend more of that same success as the Wildcats created one glittering opportunity after another. Jacob Micflikier had two grade-A chances under his belt by the 18-second mark, escaping from a defender in the corner and walking out in front for a shot and rebound from the doorstep.
A minute later, Collins and Preston Callander broke in two-on-one. Although they were broken up, Collins regained the puck and set up Matt Fornataro in the slot. Keni Gibson, who was brilliant in the early going, stopped Fornataro and then the resulting rebound at the right post as well.
By the two-minute mark, UNH had five shots on goal, each one of the grade-A variety.
A goal was seemingly imminent. Shockingly, however, it came off a Husky stick. From behind the net, Bryan Esner fed Steve Sanders, who roofed it from the doorstep for the 1-0 lead. The goal, coming at 5:34, was the junior’s third of the season.
For Umile, it was uncomfortably like the frustrations of the past two weeks. “I looked at the staff and said, ‘You’ve got to be kidding me! I’ve seen this reel before.’ But the important thing is how we responded to that.”
Thanks to a big Kevin Regan save on Jason Mudryk’s point-blank shot, the Wildcats entered the dressing room down only 1-0.
The game turned in the second period. New Hampshire continued to dominate territorially, but this time capitalized on its best chances with four goals, the first three on the power play.
At 3:51, Collins circled high in the offensive zone and spotted Callander on the right post. Collins shot and Callander redirected it into the net for his 20th goal of the season.
A minute later Northeastern’s Esner and Jason Blain broke two-on-one, but Regan got a piece of Esner’s shot.
That put the UNH power play in position to grab the lead with its most impressive Swiss clock precision performance, moving the puck patiently to Brian Yandle, who shot from inside the left faceoff circle. Gibson made the stop, but Hemingway roofed the rebound into the net and at 9:43 the Wildcats had their first lead.
Four minutes later they made it 3-1 on another Yandle blast, coming on the power play from between the two points. By that time UNH was well on its way to a 22-8 second-period shot dominance, much of it coming while on the first four man advantages of the stanza.
The potential final nail in the Northeastern coffin came at 18:10 when Hemingway’s slapshot from the right wing beat Gibson, who had been so instrumental in keeping the Huskies in the game early.
Northeastern’s last gasp came at 9:17 of the third period when Yale Lewis batted in a Joe Santilli shot, but the officials convened and waved it off for high-sticking.
Just 11 seconds later, Collins put the game out of reach with his 18th goal to make it 5-1 and lights out for the Huskies. Adam Geragosian replaced Gibson, who finished with 34 saves.
That didn’t stop the bleeding, however, as Micflikier made it 6-1, breaking in on the new goalie and lifting it into the top corner.
The two teams resume the series on Friday night at the Whittemore Center, where a third game will be played on Saturday if necessary.