BURLINGTON, Vt. — With the deciding game of its best-of-three Hockey East quarterfinal series against Northeastern knotted at one, the Vermont Catamounts broke it open by scoring three times in just over 12 minutes of the third period en route to a 4-1 win at Gutterson Fieldhouse Sunday.
The victory for No. 19 Vermont (16-14-7) sends it to the TD Banknorth Garden in Boston next Friday to face Boston University in the semifinals of the Hockey East Tournament for the first time in its three years in the conference.
Junior Corey Carlson and sophomore Brian Roloff each had a goal and an assist, and hooked up for the game-winning breakaway goal at 6:53 of the third.
On the play, Carlson split the Northeastern defense and took a home-run pass from Roloff and was alone from the neutral zone in. He made a shoulder fake, got goaltender Brad Thiessen (27 saves) to commit, and threw a backhander under the crossbar for a 2-1 lead.
“I feel great, I really do,” said Vermont coach Kevin Sneddon. “I’m just so proud of our team. I thought they had a great second half of the game in particular, and it’s a great step for our program to be able to compete down in Boston and go for a championship.”
Vermont goaltender Joe Fallon, sharp all night making 22 saves, helped carry the Catamounts to the win.
“We had a wall in net tonight’ there were some saves made tonight that I’ve never seen by any goaltender,” said Sneddon of Fallon. “I thought Joe Fallon was unbelievable in net tonight. Joe was probably the best I’ve ever seen him.”
Vermont wasted little time in the first period, going up 1-0 just 1:08 into the game. Sophomore centerman Brayden Irwin finished a two-on-two rush with a wrister from the top of the slot high over the blocker of Thiessen. Freshman defenseman Josh Burrows started the play and got an assist on Irwin’s 10th of the season.
The Catamounts were on their game early, pressuring Thiessen and the Huskies, and held a 13-8 shots on goal advantage through the first.
UVM enjoyed a five-on-three for 1:08 with six minutes left in the period, but Thiessen held the fort, making four saves to keep NU within striking distance.
Both team were scoreless on the power play for the game. Vermont was zero-for-four, while Northeastern came up empty in five opportunities.
The Huskies outplayed UVM in the second period, spending most of the period in the offensive zone, but were kept off the scoreboard.
With 15:37 remaining, Fallon made two sensational saves back-to-back, first on Joe Vitale and then Wade MacLeod, coming across the crease to get a piece with a pad while in the splits.
“I give Fallon a lot of credit, because he played a hell of a game,” said Northeastern coach Greg Cronin. “I mean, there was some saves he made in the first and second periods, toe saves and flashing a pad out that looked like wide-open nets from the bench and you say, ‘I don’t know how he got his body in front of them.’”
Northeastern’s lone senior, Jimmy Russo, tied the game at one with his seventh goal at 3:47 of the third, one-timing the puck from Tyler McNeely between Fallon’s pad and the post.
“Up until that point, I think we were kind of holding onto a one-goal game, which is not the way you want to play,” said Irwin. “When they got that, it got us back into an aggressive mode.”
Then came Carlsons game-winner.
“I was just trying to get [Thiessen] to freeze for a second,” said Carlson. “That way I could pull it quick to my backhand and try to get it up, and luckily he did bite on it.”
“Anytime you lose a game, and you think you played pretty well, and it’s the third period, and it’s a 1-1 game, it’s a painful ending,” said Cronin. “To give up a breakaway in the third period is just mind-numbing, particularly when you have all the momentum. You’ve had all the most of the second and most of the third period, that to give up an easy breakaway, it’s a terrible way to end.”
Roloff added to the lead at 15:12 from Wahsontiio Stacey and Viktor Stalberg.
Roloff went off at 16:56 for holding, giving the Huskies the chance to pull Thiessen for a six-on-four advantage. The UVM defense did what it does best, blocking shots and clogging the middle of the ice. Northeastern couldn’t convert before Dean Strong put the game away with an empty-netter from directly in front of the NU bench.
Northeastern’s season ends at 16-18-3 overall, but Cronin sees a bright future for the young Huskies.
“We made some positive steps. We’ve got one senior, and we’ve got everyone back [next year]. There’s a lot of great things to build from the group. We’ve established a core group, which is what you need to rebuild. We’ve really got some good pieces there to move forward on. I think were in good shape.”