BOSTON — Using a strong effort by its experienced first forward line of Kevin Goumas, Matt Willows and Nick Sorkin, New Hampshire kept its season alive with a 3-1 win over Providence in Friday’s Hockey East semifinals.
The line factored in every Wildcats goal, with Goumas netting two of the three. Two of the three on the line were facing the end of their collegiate careers, which provided them the extra hustle to skate strong.
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There was little question that Goumas gave what his linemate Willows’ said was “110 percent.” After an uneventful first period for both teams, Goumas picked up the game’s first goal on a special teams play seven minutes into the second period.
While on the penalty kill, Goumas picked up the puck in the Wildcats’ zone and rushed it into the Providence zone. He broke free of Friars defenseman Anthony Florentino’s man coverage, kept a hard edge around the net and dished in on the open right side of Friars goaltender Jon Gillies.
“One thing we talked about was trying to attack Gillies on the ground and side to side and that’s what we did,” said Goumas.
Aiming for the sides of Gillies factored into the Wildcats’ second goal of the game. Willows slid a pass over to Justin Agosta at the blue line, took a second to evaluate his choices, and shot it up toward a teammate set in a prime position in front of the net.
However, the puck had a mind of its own, bouncing off of the Friars’ Stefan Demopoulos and Kevin Hart and into the net to give the Wildcats a 2-0 lead with 6:29 left in the second frame.
New Hampshire peppered Gillies in the closing seconds of the second period, taking several short-range shots.
With the clock ticking down, Goumas and Sorkin set themselves in front of the net. Goumas passed across to Sorkin, whose pass was saved by Gillies. The rebound bounced to the side, and Goumas picked it up, wrapped it around and in the next with just 0.4 seconds left on the clock.
“I wanted to get the shot as quick as possible,” Goumas said. “I knew in my mind that it was getting down pretty close. I didn’t know it was that close.”
Providence finally got on the board three and a half minutes into the third period using a style of grit and resourcefulness New Hampshire had previously shown.
Drew Brown carried the puck up on the left side of Wildcats goaltender Casey DeSmith but became tangled up with Wildcats defender Dylan Maller and was pulled down behind the net.
He sought out Kevin Rooney, who was also to the left of DeSmith, and shoved the puck over to him. Rooney shot the puck into the goal to bring the Friars within two.
Rejuvenated, Providence pressed hard in the New Hampshire zone, but the Wildcats were able to get their sticks on the puck and move it out.
The Friars struggled to sustain pressure and create space in the Wildcats’ end.
“I didn’t think we were moving our feet tonight,” Friars coach Nate Leaman said. “We didn’t play our style of hockey, which is getting in hard on the net.”
Rooney agreed: “We were staying on the perimeter a little too much.”
Providence pulled Gillies with 2:28 left in the game, but New Hampshire grabbed onto possession and tried its hand at some empty-net attempts that Providence blocked.
With 30 seconds left, the Friars threw the kitchen sink at DeSmith, but he saved everything on his way to a 26-save performance on the evening.
Gillies finished with 28 saves for the Friars.
The win provides UNH its eighth appearance in the Hockey East championship game, their first since 2007, and extends the season for at least one more game for Goumas and his linemates.
“We need to win tomorrow to get to the NCAA tournament,” Wildcats coach Dick Umile said. “Our goal is to win a national championship, and to do so, we need to get to the NCAA tournament.”