DURHAM, NH — New Hampshire drew first blood in its quarterfinal series with Vermont, winning 3-1. Matt DiGirolamo stopped 31-of-32 shots, holding down the fort early while the visitors used a succession of power plays to build a lopsided advantage in shots.
UNH never trailed, however, getting a goal in each period. Paul Thompson and Phil DeSimone each recorded a goal and an assist. Stevie Moses added an insurance goal in the third, finally capitalizing on one of his 10 shots.
DiGirolamo ranked fourth in the league this year in both goals against average and save percentage while compiling a 19-9-6 record but was playing in his first playoff game. The junior acquitted himself more than admirably.
“I’m not surprised,” UNH head coach Dick Umile said. “He’d been in big games all season and he’s been consistent all season. I expect that from him. That’s the kind of goalie he is.”
The Wildcat special teams also shone brightly with the power play scoring on its lone opportunity while the penalty killers held Vermont scoreless in all five of its man advantages. On the season UNH has stymied the Catamounts on all 16 of their power plays.
“We created chances for our power play by working down low and [UNH] took some penalties, but we just didn’t capitalize,” UVM head coach Kevin Sneddon said.
“I’m real proud of our team. I thought we played a heckuva game. That’s a great team we’re playing against and we’ve got a lot of young players who haven’t played a playoff game. This is far from over as far as we’re concerned.”
That same far-from-over theme also echoed in the UNH locker room. Last year, the Wildcats dominated the opening game of the quarterfinals 7-4, but were shut out by Vermont 1-0 in the second and third games. Although they still qualified for the NCAA tournament, it marked the second straight time they’d been knocked out in the Hockey East quarterfinals.
The resolve to avoid a third consecutive frustration was clear.
“One game gets you nothing,” Moses said. “Last year, we came out strong the first night and then lost two.
“That can’t happen this year. We’ve got to refocus, enjoy this for a few minutes, and then get back to work tomorrow.”
Umile was more succinct.
“I don’t have to say anything,” he said. “They know. It’s all about tomorrow. We don’t worry about anything else.”
The Wildcats got off to a good start in the first period, netting the lone goal despite being outshot 14-4. The Catamounts dominated the shots primarily due to the only two power plays of the period, getting off five of their 14 on the man advantage.
On the goal, DeSimone carried the puck up the right wing, cut to the net, and dumped it back to Thompson in front. Thompson did what he’s done so often this year, put the puck into the back of the net. It was his 27th goal of the season.
Vermont objected to a hit shortly before the goal that left a Catamount down on the ice as play transitioned out of the defensive zone. He got to his feet and skated back into the play, although at less than full capacity, as DeSimone flew back into the zone. The hit, thought by Sneddon to be a hit from behind, was deemed a clean one by the officials.
Sebastian Stalberg tied it for Vermont at 13:20 of the second shortly after DiGirolamo stoned Chris McCarthy on a breakaway. Stalberg took multiple whacks at the puck in front and finally one went in.
The tie, however, proved short-lived. Madore made a great save during a delayed penalty, somehow stopping Dalton Speelman on the weak-side post after a perfect feed from Thompson. On the resulting power play, however, DeSimone and Thompson again collaborated, this time with a DeSimone goal. Linemate Mike Sislo fed down to Thompson on the left boards, where he slid a duplicate copy of the previous perfect pass to the far post where this time DeSimone tapped it in. The goal came with five seconds remaining on the man advantage.
UNH’s second line of Stevie Moses, Mike Borisenok and Kevin Goumas provided an extra cushion at 9:09 of the third, using cycling in textbook fashion. They cycled until a Vermont defender lost his man and Borisenok found Moses cutting to the net. He buried it for his 12th of the season and a 3-1 lead.
The two teams resume their best-of-three series on Saturday and if necessary, Sunday.