No happy ending for Denver after third-period rally against UMass

Denver’s Kohen Olischefski and Filip Larsson react after Massachusetts’ overtime goal (photo: Jim Rosvold).

BUFFALO, N.Y. — If Denver could have rewritten any theme from its story line this season, it would have been the one in which the Pioneers came back from a first-period deficit just one time to win a game.

They would have revised that narrative to include a second game in which coming from behind when trailing after the first meant another trip to the NCAA title game.

Thursday’s semifinal game wasn’t fated for a happy ending, not for Denver.

In a 4-3 semifinal loss to Massachusetts, the Pioneers trailed 3-1 at the end of the first after allowing three power-play goals within a two-minute span, the last two scored 18 seconds apart. That early shortcoming was similar to a road game that Denver played against Wisconsin on Jan. 5, the only game in which the Pioneers bounced back after the first period to win a game.

In that contest, the Pioneers found themselves behind early when the Badgers scored two goals 18 seconds apart before the middle of the first. That period ended 2-1 and the second period ended with Denver down 3-2.

In that contest, it was freshman Cole Guttman’s ninth goal of the season that gave the Pioneers their third goal of the night at 7:54 in the third, tying the game. In that contest, Slava Demin had the game-winning goal for Denver at 1:42 in overtime.

Thursday, Guttman’s 13th and 14th goals of the season late in the third evened the score for the Pioneers, who had outscored opponents 43-26 in third periods this season. After Guttman’s goals and a third period in which Denver outshot UMass 15-4, the Pioneers had every reason to believe that they were rewriting at least part of this season’s narrative.

“We battled back,” said team captain Colin Staub, who opened the scoring for Denver at 8:29 in the first period to give the Pioneers their only lead of the game. “There was no doubt in our minds going into overtime that we were going to win that game.”

The momentum was on Denver’s side heading into overtime, even if the odds weren’t. The Pioneers were 1-4-2 this season when trailing after the first but Denver had won 21 games this season after scoring first, and the Pioneers knew they had outscored opponents 4-1 in OT, too

“There was no panic,” said Staub.

At 15:18 in overtime, though, a goal from UMass’s Marc Del Gaizo closed the book on Denver for the 2018-19 season.

“There was a belief we were winning the hockey game,” said Denver coach David Carle. “I don’t think anyone doubted that we weren’t going to win the game. I loved how we pushed in the third. It was an incredible effort by everybody that was going. Thought we had them.”

One goal and one game short of a chance to play for a national championship, Denver finished the season with 24 wins and was only one of three teams in NCAA history to reach 20 wins for 18 consecutive seasons.