BURLINGTON, Vt. — With only 2:05 remaining, Chris Capraro netted the game-winning goal to lift No. 19 Massachusetts over No. 16 Vermont, 3-2, at Gutterson Fieldhouse Friday.
Capraro converted a Cory Quirk pass to give the Minutemen the win, which leapfrogged them over the Catamounts into a tie for the fourth and final home-ice Hockey East playoff spot with Maine.
“Cory Quirk made a really incredible dish I think [UVM goaltender Joe] Fallon had the angle taken away to Capraro on the side of the net for the tap-in,” said UMass coach Don “Toot” Cahoon.
The goal came on something that plagued the Catamounts all game a defensive breakdown. It especially hurt considering the two-goal first-period lead the visitors built had been erased in the second.
“I thought we had three really bad defensive mistakes, and we can’t have that from key players,” said UVM coach Kevin Sneddon. “The last goal they scored was inexcusable in my book. It shouldn’t have happened.”
“I thought the game broke the way you’d like it to break coming in the visiting team,” said Cahoon. “They still had a little bit more territorial edge; they got a little bit more out of their grinds; but we were still pleased with where we were positionally and the way we
were clearing the front of the net.
The opportunistic Minutemen scored twice in the opening 20 minutes despite managing only six shots on net.
Just 2:08 into the game, Will Ortiz took a pass from Mark Matheson on a three-on-two and put the puck behind Fallon. Justin Braun assisted on the Ortiz’s seventh of the season.
UMass added to its lead on another odd-man rush at 10:47. This time, Ortiz fed Leaderer in the right circle on a three-on-one.
Vermont, despite giving up the two goals, had a few good chances to score. The Cats had 11 shots, and forced goalie Jon Quick to make some solid saves. He made one each on Torrey Mitchell and Viktor Stalberg from in front to keep UVM off the board.
For a team that has had its troubles putting the puck in the net at times this season, Vermont wasn’t phased being in an early hole.
“There was no sense of panic on the bench [in the second period] for the first time in a while.” Sneddon said. “We believed that we were going to score and come back, so that’s why it’s a little bit deflating right now. Because we had stolen the momentum, we had played great hockey.”
Stalberg cut the lead to one on the power play with a great individual effort, beating Quick on a wraparound. The Gothenburg, Sweden native collected the rebound of a Mitchell shot, scooted left to right, and stuffed it home at 5:16.
Mitchell’s assist on the goal was his 100th point as a Catamount. He becomes the 40th Vermont player to accomplish the feat, doing it in just 107 games as a junior.
Mitchell nearly added point No. 101 with 10:49 left. He stepped into a shot from the left circle that was labeled for Quick’s glove side. Instead, the puck caromed off his shoulder, the crossbar, and out of play.
Brayden Irwin knotted the game at two at 16:12 of the period. Irwin found a bouncing puck in the slot, spun and banged it through Quick’s five-hole to give his team the lift it needed going to the third.
“I thought we kept it simple,” Sneddon said of his team’s play in the middle frame. “We got the puck in deep and forechecked them very well probably one of the better forechecking periods we’ve had in quite some time. I didn’t think they could handle our pressure very well. . . . We had great jump, attacked the net very well, got pucks to the net, bodies to the net, and played with a great sense of urgency.”
That urgency seemed to have been left in the dressing room between periods. The Minutemen regrouped for the third, taking the play to the Catamounts. The UMass defense only allowed eight shot attempts, five of which were on goal, and had some quality scoring chances of their own.
Late in the period came Capraro’s winner, which gave UMass only its fourth win all-time at Gutterson.
Quick made 26 saves for UMass, while Fallon had 21 for UVM.
Massachusetts (14-10-5, 11-8-3 Hockey East) and Vermont 15-12-4, 10-8-4) close the season series with the rubber match Saturday.