PROVIDENCE, R.I. — Desperate times certainly call for desperate measures, and the approach Providence coach Tim Army took in Saturday night’s game against No. 17 Vermont proved that things are reaching a dire state for the Friars.
After a lackluster effort in a 5-1 loss to the Catamounts on Friday, the third straight blowout loss for Providence, Army decided to change his team’s focus for Saturday’s rematch.
Army’s goal was simple: just stay in the game. In doing so, he hoped to be in a position late where a play here or a fluke bounce there might be the difference for his club. Truth is, it almost worked.
The Friars lulled Vermont to sleep, took a 1-1 game into the late stages and had plenty of bids late, including a power play for the final 1:17 of overtime. The Friars, though, couldn’t find a way to get a puck past Vermont goalie Rob Madore late as the clubs skated to a 1-1 tie in front of 1,812 at Providence’s Schneider Arena.
“We weren’t really in the last three games, said Army, which in addition to Friday’s loss to Vermont included a 4-1 loss at Massachusetts and a 5-2 drubbing at Boston College. “I just really wanted to be in a game. That was our approach tonight.”
Army told his team before the game that they would break the contest into five-minute segments, saying that if his club could win or tie each mini-period, they’d be in good shape.
“We just simplified it, not get ahead of ourselves,” said Army. “We’ve battled all year long but the last three games we have felt like we were in it in the third period. I wanted to give us a chance to feel good, that we’re in a game.”
The hero for both teams, not surprisingly was the goaltenders. While Madore finished the night with 32 saves, Providence’s Alex Beaudry stopped 28 of the 29 shots the Catamounts put on net, coming a night after he was yanked from the game after surrendering three goals in the first period.
“I felt that [Beaudry] would come back and play really well tonight,” said Army. “He showed a lot of character. He held onto a lot of shots. He didn’t give up rebounds. He gave us a chance to get some whistles and change guys.”
Providence came out of the gates fast but still it was Vermont that got on the scoreboard first.
The rookie line of Sebastian Stalberg, David Pacan and Chris McCarthy combined for their fourth goal of the weekend. This time it was McCarthy walking out of the left corner, getting a shot on Beaudry and Pacan crashing towards the net to lift the rebound over the goalie’s glove at 8:07.
Providence responded, though, when Vermont’s Colin Vock was sent off for hooking at 16:00. John Cavanaugh, who was moved from defense to forward on Saturday night, was the beneficiary of puck luck when his centering pass hit the skate of Vermont’s Jay Anctil and trickled past Madore.
In the second, Vermont owned the game, but Beaudry stymied the Cats. The two best chances, ironically, weren’t even recorded as saves. Drew MacKenzie threw a knuckle puck through traffic that clanged off the cross bar with a little more than three minutes remaining in the second. In the closing minute, Jack Downing was able to pull Beaudry out of position and fire a shot along the ice that hit the right post.
Even at one in the third, Vermont had a golden opportunity when Providence’s Ben Farrer was issued a five-minute major and game misconduct for a hit from behind. The Catamounts, though, couldn’t penetrate the Friars’ passive penalty killing box and mustered just three shots that resulted in routine saves for Beaudry.
Able to kill the major, Providence seized significant momentum.
“A five-minute penalty kill, if you can [not allow a goal] it can work the same as scoring a power play goal,” said Army.
Providence got two chances on the power play themselves, one in the closing minutes of regulation and one for the final 77 seconds of overtime after Kyle Medvec was whistled for delay of game after he picked up a loose puck on a scramble in front and threw it behind the net.
It was those power play opportunities, though, where Madore was at his best.
“[Madore] made a couple of saves tonight where I don’t know how they didn’t end up in the back of the net,” said Vermont coach Kevin Sneddon.
Taking just a point in a critical game might be disappointing for Providence, which now sits seven points out of the final playoff spot with seven games to play. Having entered Saturday with a six-game losing streak, even a single point feels like a victory.
“A point is a point,” said Army. “We have seven games to go. Let’s not get ahead of ourselves. We need the point. It helps our confidence.”
For Sneddon and his team, a three-point weekend pulls the Catamounts into a tie for fifth place with Boston University and Massachusetts-Lowell, just two weeks after Vermont was sitting in eighth place clinging to their playoff lives.
Sneddon said he would’ve obviously liked to have four points from the weekend, but is happy enough with three as well as the way his team competed on the weekend.
“My satisfaction is the battle,” said Sneddon. “As a unit, I feel like we made some strides this weekend. We’re getting close to where we need to be heading into the stretch run.”