PROVIDENCE, R.I. — There’s just something about playing Providence College that appeals to New Hampshire goaltender Kevin Regan.
The Wildcats’ senior proved to be the Friars’ nemesis again on Friday night, setting a new career high by making 52 saves to earn his club a 1-1 tie at Schneider Arena.
No. 14 Providence ended No. 4 New Hampshire’s nine-game Hockey East winning streak, thanks to John Cavanagh’s second-period goal, but the Friars couldn’t break through again despite firing a barrage of shots at Regan’s cage. Regan lifted his lifetime mark against Providence to 6-1-2, a record that includes a pair of shutouts against the Friars in last year’s Hockey East quarterfinals, and improved upon the gaudy .955 save percentage that he carried into the game against the Friars.
“They’re just one of those teams that throws a ton of pucks to the net,” Regan said. “If we do a good job of not letting them get that second shot, we’ll be successful against them.”
“He’s been real important for us obviously,” New Hampshire coach Dick Umile said. “He made some really good saves. I know he had a lot of shots but he made some really good saves when he had to.”
Regan ruled the day on quantity of saves, but Providence goaltender Tyler Sims stole a point for the Friars by staring down red-hot New Hampshire winger Mike Radja and making the biggest stop of the night with less than 30 seconds remaining in overtime.
Radja coasted in alone, courtesy of Matt Fornataro’s pass from his own zone, and Sims gave Radja nothing to shoot at, coming out of his crease and forcing Radja to swat a bouncing puck wide of the left post to ensure the tie.
“Good teams have good goaltenders and ours, I think, did pretty well,” Cavanagh said. “He didn’t see as many shots, but he kept us in there and made some big ones, too.”
Providence coach Tim Army was experiencing a familiar sickening feeling on the bench while watching Radja go in on Sims. Army’s mind flashed back to Nov. 17, a 5-4 overtime loss to New Hampshire at Schneider in which Wildcats’ winger Paul Thompson potted the winning goal with 2:03 to play.
“You’re thinking dj vu all over again so to speak,” Army said. “Tyler played (Radja) really well and he forced a wide shot. Obviously, I wasn’t happy.”
Regan’s highlight had come just moments earlier. The league’s reigning Pure Hockey Defensive Player of the Week and current leader in goals-against average denied Cavanagh’s bid for his second goal of the night with 2:39 left in regulation.
Cavanagh picked up a loose puck at center ice and flew down the right wing on a partial breakaway, but his bid for the game-winner ended up safe in Regans catching glove.
“I thought I’d get him to bite by looking low and going up high,” Cavanagh said. “He just flashed the glove and made the save.”
It was Regan’s 47th save of the night, tying his previous career high, and provided an exclamation point to an evening in which he snapped a three-way tie for most career appearances by a New Hampshire goaltender.
Regan has now played in 102 games, moving one ahead of Mike Ayers (2000-04) and Greg Moffett (1977-81) for the top spot.
“Any time you get mentioned with those guys it’s an honor,” Regan said. “I’m very humble about what I’ve done.”
Regan was solid right from the opening whistle, stopping 20 shots in the first period to set yet another career best and allow his team to get on the board first. New Hampshire (18-7-2, 14-4-2 HE) pierced Providence’s league-leading penalty killing unit thanks to Danny Dries. The freshman winger pounced on a rebound at the right post and snapped home his seventh goal of the season to make it 1-0 at 6:45.
The Friars (13-10-4, 10-6-4 HE) leaned on their shorthand unit and caught a couple of good breaks midway through the second period for the boost they needed to tie the game. New Hampshire hit the post twice, most notably on Peter LeBlanc’s shot from the right circle with eight minutes to play, and Providence survived back-to-back penalties that left the Friars shorthanded for four straight minutes during one stretch before Cavanagh evened things up at 13:39. Providence hemmed New Hampshire into its own end and began cycling the puck down low, ending with Cavanagh’s shot from the slot that beat Regan inside the right post.
“I thought we had two really good kills that got us back on track,” Army said. “It took a couple of shifts to get back on our game and then I thought we played really well in the second period.”
The home-and-home series shifts to New Hampshire’s Whittemore Center on Saturday night, a house of horrors for the Friars over the past decade.
Providence has won just three of its last 25 games in Durham, including a 1-14 record over the last 15, and now finds itself needing at least a point to break the three-way deadlock for the final three home-ice positions in the league. New Hampshire (30 points) is comfortably ahead of the Friars, Boston College and Northeastern (all tied with 24 points) and could knock Providence off the pace with a victory on Saturday.
“I don’t know if the puck was bouncing on him or what, but (Radja) didn’t get his best scoring chances,” Umile said. “That’s alright; we’ll take the point down here and hopefully tomorrow we can be successful.”
“I don’t focus on (Providence’s struggles in New Hampshire) at all,” Army said. “Those kinds of things have plagued us in the past. We’ve got to play well.”