DURHAM, N.H. — When a team goes undefeated at home for its entire league schedule, it doesn’t expect to start losing there in the playoffs. Especially not as a number one seed.
New Hampshire didn’t lose to Vermont, but the Wildcats sure made it interesting, needing to rally from a 4-2 deficit, scoring five unanswered goals for a 7-4 win.
Mike Sislo scored a key tide-turning goal with two minutes left in second period to draw UNH within one and then was part of a three-goal explosion in the first 4:08 of the third.
Bobby Butler also scored twice and added an assist to become the first Wildcat to top 50 points in a season since Preston Callander and Sean Collins did it five years ago.
“It’s something that I’ll look back on 10 or 20 years from now,” said Butler, who was unaware of the 50-point milestone. “But we got the win and that’s all that matters to me.
“We’re finding ways to win it at the end of the game, but we can’t keep doing that the rest of the way. It’s playoff hockey now. Hopefully sooner rather than later we’ll start coming out in the first period and beat a team in the first period.”
Vermont now must win on Saturday and Sunday to keep its season going. Goaltender Rob Madore was pulled after the early third period explosion, finishing with 15 saves to go with the six goals allowed. Since backup Mike Spillane was sidelined with injury, John Vazzano replaced Madore. Vazzano, a sophomore, had accrued only eight minutes of collegiate playing time but shut out the Wildcats, who added an empty net goal for the final score.
“It was a frustrating game for us,” said UVM coach Kevin Sneddon. “We did a lot of good things tonight. The goal that started turning the tide was the one we gave up late in the second period. That started things rolling for UNH. I don’t think we were very solid defensively from that point forward and obviously they capitalized on every chance they had.
“I don’t have much to say about our goaltending tonight. I feel bad for our team. We put an effort forth that certainly deserved better than seven goals against. We’ve got to get better goaltending tomorrow night.”
UNH head coach Dick Umile was happy with the win but unhappy with how his team got it.
“We were fortunate to get the win,” he said. “We battled back in the third period, but I’m getting tired of that. Our second periods need to be better.
“I’m disappointed in the way we’re playing in our own end 5-on-5. We’ve got to play better defensively in our end.”
UNH, fresh off winning its third regular season title in the last four years, entered the contest as a healthy favorite in the one-seed versus eight-seed quarterfinals. The Wildcats had also posted a 9-0-4 record at home in Hockey East play this year.
But Vermont took a 2-1 lead into the locker room after the first period, surprising in its own right because of UNH’s stature but shocking since the Catamounts hadn’t generated a serious scoring chance before scoring at the 13:09 mark.
UNH had gotten on the scoreboard first at 6:16, 24 seconds into the game’s first power play. Blake Kessel traded passes from the point to Matt Campanale in the right faceoff circle and Butler in the left one until Butler found an opening. The senior ripped a wrister high into the net for the early 1-0 lead.
Vermont finally got its offense into gear with a faceoff goal at 13:09 with Drew MacKenzie scoring from the left faceoff circle on a shot Brian Foster never saw.
Although the Catamounts went on their first power play at 15:48, UNH appeared poised to score a shorthanded goal when Butler sent Paul Thompson in on a breakaway only to have the shot hit the right corner crossbar.
Seconds after the man advantage ended, Jay Anctil circled behind the net, left-to-right, and stuffed a wraparound backhander for a 2-1 Vermont lead.
Just 1:29 into the second period, Nick Krates tied the game for UNH with a faceoff goal through a screen that was virtually identical to Vermont’s first score.
Having tied the game, however, New Hampshire began a stretch of its worst defense of the game. Kevan Miller and Sebastian Stalberg were both allowed dangerous shots from the slot, then Foster was forced to make a stop on a three-on-two.
Sure enough, Josh Burrows soon scored on a rebound to retake the lead for Vermont and seconds later the Catamounts went on the only power play of the period.
Although they wouldn’t score on that advantage, they did extend the score to 4-2 at 8:20 when a big Krates hit at center ice leveled a Catamount but led to a two-on-one in which Higgins scored.
With two minutes left in the second period, Sislo scored his huge momentum-turning goal, faking a shot when Madore took the entire net away from him and then scoring on a wraparound.
Kessel ignited the third period outburst with a rebound into an open net just 38 seconds in. Sislo scored his second three minutes later after circling behind the net and beating Madore from the left side. Another 43 seconds later, Butler added his second goal, sending Madore to the bench on a shot that deflected off a defenseman.
Paul Thompson ended the scoring at 18:58 with an empty-net goal.