BURLINGTON, Vt. — The turning point ending Vermont’s four-game slide came at 6:36 of the second period.
The Catamounts had been dominated in the first period by Massachusetts. Then they were whistled for a five-minute major and, less than two minutes later, another minor penalty.
With the Gutterson Fieldhouse crowd in full throat, the team killed the five-on-three and — 76 seconds later — scored on its way to a 3-0 victory over the Minutemen.
Joe Fallon came up with 32 saves to tie for the national lead with six shutouts. It tied Fallon’s own single-season record and brought the junior’s career total to 17.
Torrey Mitchell and Dean Strong paced the offense, registering a goal and an assist apiece.
The win jumps the Catamounts (16-12-4, 11-8-4) back into fourth place in the Hockey East standings with 26 points, while the Minutemen (14-11-5, 11-9-3) fall back into a tie with Maine for fifth with 25.
“I’m just so proud of the team from top to bottom. I thought we had great, great effort out of each and every one of them,” said UVM coach Kevin Sneddon.
“You, know what? … I’m most proud of the way Joe rebounded from a couple tough games. He came in there, and he was the difference tonight. I thought he had a great game for us.”
UMass fired 16 shots on net in the opening stanza. The Catamounts, a team that usually plays stingy defense and on most nights doesn’t allow much more than 16 shots in a game, let alone in a period, had to rely on Fallon to get to the second on level terms.
He made three saves on shots from the slot on Will Ortiz, Chris Capraro, and Justin Braun. Most of the other attempts on goal came from the perimeter.
Reese Wisnowski got the gate, when he hit Topher Bevis from behind on the right-wing boards, setting up the major for UMass at 2:46 of the second.
Then, at 4:36, Torrey Mitchell went off for interference, giving the Minutemen 65 seconds of a five-on-three. Vermont’s penalty kill, which ranks second nationally (89.6 percent), buckled down and Fallon made the saves to keep it scoreless.
“We obviously pride ourselves on penalty killing. I think we’re one of the top teams in the nation in doing so,” said defenseman Kenny Macaulay. “So, anytime we can kill off a five-minute [major] that successfully, it’s going to boost the team’s morale, and we just built off it and rolled from there.”
P.J. Fenton negated the rest of the advantage for the visitors, taking an interference call of his own with 58 seconds remaining on the major. Just after Mitchell’s penalty ended, Vermont broke on top.
Mark Lutz fed Brayden Irwin just inside the right circle. Irwin ripped a shot over the glove of Jon Quick (21 saves) at 7:52. Strong also assisted on Irwin’s sixth of the season and second of the weekend.
“I wanted to kiss Brayden Irwin when he got back to the bench after he scored that goal, “said Mitchell, relieved that his penalty hadn’t harmed the team. “I was so happy; I was pretty thankful.
Later in the period, feeling the momentum shift, Corey Carlson and Viktor Stalberg almost connected on a pretty two-on-one rush. Carlson, coming down the right side, dished to Stalberg, who gave it right back before Carlson pushed the puck just wide of the open side of the net.
At 2:19 into the third, Vermont got that all-important insurance tally. Brian Roloff made a left-to right pass to Mitchell at the circle. Mitchell made a move and went to his backhand to beat Quick for his 12th goal and a 2-0 lead.
“I think [Mitchell] would be the first to say that it was an NHL pass from Brian Roloff,” said Sneddon. “You only see that play being made by special players at that level, and Brian, to find Torrey on the weak side with a bullet, perfect pass, right to his blade — I think it shocked Torrey to some degree — and then Torrey obviously knew how to finish.”
Strong converted from the right circle to open a three-goal cushion, closing out the scoring at 8:39. Peter Lenes and Mitchell assisted on Strong’s team-leading 13th goal of the season.
UMass coach Don “Toot” Cahoon agreed the sequence early in the second was the turning point.
“It’s obviously disappointing from our standpoint, because we played very, very well up until that point,” he said. “Even after they scored the goal, my thought was, ‘Geez, if we just keep playing the way we are playing, we’ll get that back and we’ll get after them.’
“Tonight, we played a great, maybe 30 minutes … we couldn’t have asked the kids to play any better.”
Vermont hits the road for its final road trip of the season, heading to Boston University for a two-game set starting Friday. Massachusetts next has a home-and-home with Northeastern; The Minutemen host the first game Friday.