DURHAM, N.H. — Riding Kevin Regan’s history-making performance and a dominant power play, New Hampshire saddled visiting Providence with a doubly-sickening feeling of dj vu on Friday night.
The top-seeded Wildcats completed a Hockey East quarterfinal sweep of the eighth-seeded Friars for the second straight season with their 6-0 win in Game 2 at the Whittemore Center, and Regan etched his name into the league’s record books for the second time in as many nights.
No. 4 New Hampshire rode power-play goals by Chris Murray and Brett Hemingway in the opening period to build an unstoppable wave of momentum, withstanding a pair of four-minute power play opportunities by Providence behind Regan’s outstanding play.
The junior became the first goalie in Hockey East’s 24-year history to record three postseason shutouts, all against the Friars, and made 42 saves for the second straight night to punch his team’s ticket to next weekend’s semifinals at Boston’s TD Banknorth Garden.
The Wildcats extended their dominance at home over the Friars with Friday’s win, making it 10 straight victories against Providence at Towse Rink. New Hampshire has now won 14 of its last 15 meetings with the Friars at home, including five straight in the postseason, and eliminated Providence from the league playoffs for the third time in four years.
The Wildcats bore little resemblance to the team that lost its last three regular-season games and, according to head coach Dick Umile, “played like jerks” in a 7-1 loss at Providence on Feb. 24.
“Obviously, I’m thrilled with the weekend,” Umile said. “I thought the team responded well.”
“I’m sure a lot of people doubted what we could do, but no one doubted it in our locker room,” Regan said. “We definitely wanted to come out and make a statement. We just played solid. We did those extra things that maybe we weren’t doing those last few weeks.”
Regan’s performance provided a stark contrast to Providence’s turbulent goaltending situation. Sophomore Chris Mannix made just his third career start in favor of Tyler Sims, who was pulled after allowing two goals in the first period on Thursday. Mannix made some spectacular saves against New Hampshire’s talented offense, preventing what could have been an even more lopsided Wildcats’ win, but the lack of a true No. 1 option hamstrung the Friars from the start of the series.
“I guess the biggest concern for me was I was really unsettled on our goaltending coming into the weekend,” Providence head coach Tim Army said. “Coming in after 34 games into a playoff series you’d like to make sure that you’ve got the guy that you want to go with, and I was a little bit unsettled about it.
“Ultimately, the fact that Kevin Regan played so well and — as you can obviously sense with me making the change — we weren’t quite as settled in that area. It had an impact, although I thought Chris made some great stops tonight. It did have an impact in the early going (Thursday) night, which kind of set the mood for the series.”
Regan backed up his 4-0 blanking of Providence in Thursday’s Game 1 with another stellar performance, holding the Friars scoreless in seven power-play chances despite Providence’s 18 shots with the man advantage.
“We watched a lot of tape and, basically, what it came down to was we had to really, really work hard down low,” Regan said. “The guys on the left side did a great job just working hard and really pressuring them, not giving them everything — everything was from outside.”
“He was obviously equal to the task,” Army said. “In the early part of the game, when the game was hanging in the balance, that was the key part of it.”
New Hampshire’s potent power play went to work early against the Friars, as the Wildcats scored on each of their first two opportunities with the man advantage in the opening period. Mike Radja’s pass from behind the net set up Murray sneaking down the slot for a one-timer past Mannix at 7:11.
New Hampshire struck again on another beautiful play at 15:50, as Jacob Micflikier’s pass across the goalmouth left Hemingway with nothing more than a tap-in at the left post.
“Credit to the UNH power play — they made two great plays,” Army said. “They really moved it hard and Murray and Hemingway got good wood on (their shots) and took advantage of it.”
The Wildcats poured it on in the middle period with three more highlight-reel scores, the first coming when Thomas Fortney snapped home Josh Ciocco’s pass to finish off a 2-on-1 at 2:55. Greg Collins’ spin move and backhanded pass across the slot handed Fortney his second of the night less than five minutes later, making it 4-0, and Trevor Smith potted his team-leading 20th of the year when he tipped in Jerry Pollastrone’s perfect pass off the right wing for New Hampshire’s third power-play goal of the night.
“It was definitely good to get it going again like we were early in the season,” Fortney said. “This was what we needed going into the playoffs. To come out and play the way we did was a bonus.”
ICE CHIPS: Regan separated himself from some elite company by shutting out Providence on Friday. The junior netminder made 42 saves to tie his own Hockey East record for most saves made while recording a shutout, a mark that he set the previous night with 42 stops in the Wildcats’ 4-0 win in Game 1. Regan had become just the fourth goalie in the league’s 24-year history to notch a pair of shutouts in his postseason career on Thursday, and is now tied with Boston University standout John Curry after the Terriers’ senior shut out Vermont, 2-0, on Friday. “I’ll take it as an honor because so many good players came through this league,” Regan said. “It doesn’t really mean much (right now) because we’ve got another big weekend coming up.” … Regan and Curry broke out of what had been a four-way tie with former Boston College star Scott Clemmensen and former Wildcats’ netminder Mike Ayers with two postseason blankings. Ayers still owns the lone shutout in a Hockey East championship game, a 1-0 win over the Terriers in the 2003 final to secure New Hampshire’s second tournament title. … Providence’s elimination brought an end to senior center Tony Zancanaro’s ironman streak. The two-year captain played in every Friars’ game during his four-year career, a total of 146 contests, to tie former defenseman Rob Gaudreau (1988-92) for eighth place on the school’s all-time list of games played. Current Providence head coach Tim Army is tops in program history, playing in 151 games during his career with the Friars from 1981-85. … As is typical of playoff hockey, special teams played a key role in New Hampshire’s two-game sweep. The Wildcats entered the series with the league’s top combined special teams units, and their second-ranked power play scored three times in Friday’s 6-0 win. New Hampshire’s penalty killers were just as impressive, holding Providence scoreless on a pair of four-minute power plays in Game 2, and the Friars were 0-for-12 with the man advantage in the series.