DURHAM, N.H. — In the end, the hot team advanced to the Hockey East semifinals while the clock gonged midnight for Cinderella.
It wasn’t midnight literally, but it did take 94 minutes and 18 seconds for New Hampshire to defeat Providence, 2-1, and earn a fifth straight championship weekend appearance. The Wildcats amassed a 61-35 shot advantage, including 27-10 in the two overtimes.
Providence goaltender Tyler Sims, however, stymied UNH until Daniel Winnik, a force all night, roofed a rebound of a Chris Murray shot at 14:18 of the second overtime.
A month earlier, New Hampshire (20-11-7) had appeared to be in serious danger of missing out on playoff home ice and the NCAA tournament. However, the Wildcats finished with a 5-1-3 record down the stretch through a gauntlet of highly-ranked opponents to earn the right to host Providence. Combined with the 4-0 victory in the Thursday night series opener, the win now sends UNH to the semifinals where, if favorites Boston University and Maine also complete sweeps on Saturday, the Wildcats will face BU.
“The guys were just determined to win,” UNH coach Richard Umile said. “We’ve had a great finish to the season and great leadership. This team was determined to get to Boston and compete for the championship.
“It was an unbelievable hockey game. We’re excited to be going to Boston.”
Sims had stopped 59 of 60 shots, including 26 in the overtimes, until Winnik’s game-winner.
“Physically, I was dead,” he said. “But mentally I was so into it. [Adrenaline] just took over.
“I’m so proud of the guys for battling so hard for that long. It was a pleasure to be on the ice with them. We’re only going to build on this for next year.”
The loss marks the end of the season for Providence (17-16-3) after a promising start in which the Friars spent considerable time in first and second place. They fell out of a home ice berth down the stretch, however, dropping to two games below .500 since the start of the new year.
“The Winnik line really posed problems for us,” PC coach Tim Army said of the junior with Brett Hemingway and Jacob Micflikier. “They’re good, they’re big, they’re powerful and they’re skilled. They had good moments of play.
“UNH kept pushing on us hard and we started to tire. The wrong guy, from our standpoint, ended up with the puck on his stick.”
In a scoreless opening period, the Wildcats enjoyed a significant territorial edge, spending far more time in the PC zone than their own while compiling a 12-8 shot advantage. That, however, didn’t translate into either an abundance of grade A chances or any goals.
The best opportunities came in the closing minutes of the period when PC’s Torry Gajda shot from the low slot followed by UNH’s Micflikier and Greg Collins.
The two teams swapped power-play goals in the middle period, resulting in another deadlocked intermission.
At 3:20 of the second, the Friars broke on top. On their first power play of the evening, Colin McDonald scored his ninth of the season, assisted by Jamie Carroll and Nick Mazzolini. Mazzolini got it started with a shot from the right crease that Jeff Pietrasiak couldn’t cleanly control. The puck popped in the air and in the resulting swats from Friars parked on the doorstep, MacDonald knocked it in.
Seven minutes later, UNH evened the game at 1-1 on a man-advantage goal of its own. Hemingway drew coverage to himself down low on the left and then flipped the puck to Micflikier in front. The junior settled the puck and then put it past Sims for his 14th of the year.
Neither team scored in the third period, although that wasn’t for lack of chances, especially in the opening and closing few minutes. UNH came out flying with a Collins partial breakaway foiled by a backchecking defender and then a Winnik-Micflikier collaboration just missed.
With the 1-1 tie holding up going into the closing minutes, the Whittemore Center crowd rose to cheer on its Wildcats. PC’s McDonald responded with a tester, but then a Micflikier and Hemingway two-on-one almost ended the game short of overtime.
An interference call on Providence with 26 seconds left put UNH on a brief power play before the end of regulation and then opening overtime, but PC killed it off.
The rest of overtime saw plenty of excitement, both in terms of the high stakes and also the chances generated primarily by UNH, which held a 15-5 shot disparity, offset by Friar counterpunches. Winnik and Micflikier had yet another two-on-one; PC’s Dylan Cox followed with a strong chance from the slot.
UNH then put three top-notch opportunities together. Jerry Pollastrone and Smith had a flurry off a faceoff; Josh Ciocco, Mike Radja and Thomas Fortney combined for the best of the chances; Hemingway and Micflikier threatened again.
However, PC’s Trevor Ludwig then raced off on a breakaway, forcing a game-saving stacked pad stop by Pietrasiak.
In the second overtime, Sims foiled Micflikier on the rebound of a Brian Yandle blast from the point. Hemingway then forced a turnover at the PC blueline and threatened on a break with Micflikier. Pietrasiak, however, had to be sharp on excellent chances by Pierce Norton just minutes before Winnik’s game-winner.