Big play: Providence finally solves Omaha’s Massa on Acciari’s goal

Providence’s Noel Acciari (24) finds the loose puck in the crease for the Friars’ first goal Thursday (photo: Jim Rosvold).

BOSTON — Omaha rode the exceptional performance of senior goalie Ryan Massa to reach the Frozen Four.

Through 31 minutes, it looked as if Massa had one more Herculean performance in him.

But the opening goal for Providence had far more gravity than a simple 1-0 lead would indicate — the moment had been building for some time.

The breakdown in coverage had taken place multiple times for Omaha in its defensive zone, with the Friars crashing the net and forcing a rebound.

Nick Saracino dug the puck out of a scrum at the net mouth, sliding it across to Noel Acciari on the back door for the easy tap-in, 11:21 into the second period.

It was 1-0 Friars. But it felt like a lot more. The goal felt inevitable.

Suddenly, a one-sided affair in the shots-on-goal column became a hole for the Mavericks to dig out of on the scoreboard as well.

“[Providence] came from the drop of the puck,” Massa said after the game. “Didn’t give me very much breathing room. Kept me busy pretty much all night. So hats off to them for making it difficult and banging in a couple of greasy goals.”

Just three minutes earlier, it looked like Massa may have been able to withstand the barrage. At the eight-minute mark in the second period, he made a baffling series of saves with bodies colliding into the net.

After spilling the rebound on an initial shot, Massa fell on his side and just tried to block the goal line while players in both black and white sweaters converged onto the net.

The Friars attempted a bevy of low shots, which were met with timely blocks from Omaha. Then, finally, Massa staggered around in the crease to partially cover the puck, as the net was knocked off its pegs. The sequence generated a roar from the crowd, the largest of the night.

This was the moment where things could have turned around for the Mavs, when they could have engaged the neutrals in the crowd rooting for a (theoretical) underdog, when they could have leveraged momentum from a few key saves to gain some of their footing.

“I was cheering just like our fans were,” Omaha coach Dean Blais said. “He made some spectacular saves.”

Instead, just three minutes later, it was another turnover, another rebound, and this time, Acciari found the twine.

“The main thing was just to stick with our game plan,” Friars forward Mark Jankowski said. “If we got pucks to the middle and on to the net … we could bury a few.”

“I thought Massa played a terrific game tonight,” Providence coach Nate Leaman said. “We could have gotten frustrated; I was pleased with our mental toughness. We stuck with it and finally got a bounce.”

The effort from Acciari’s line was prototypical for how Providence has approached the season.

“Noel’s been a horse for us,” Leaman said. “He does a lot of things well. I thought he was winning faceoffs well early. He was getting zone time and good things were happening.”

From the drop of the puck, Providence had the jump. But converting puck possession into goals has plagued the Friars in their losses — including their Hockey East quarterfinal series loss to New Hampshire.

It was not be the case Thursday.

“We’ve been focusing on ourselves,” Leaman said. “It’s the lesson we learned versus UNH in the playoffs. It’s the best thing that could have happened to us to prepare us. We played a great Game 1 in that series, but we made a few mental mistakes and they beat us. In Games 2 and 3, we were hoping a lot.”

Instead of hoping to finish their chances, the Friars took matters into their own hands and seized the moment. As a result, they get to play for a national title.