UNH Eliminates Providence, Advances to Hockey East Semifinals
PROVIDENCE, RI - The UNH Wildcats faced the classic do-or-die scenario at the Schneider Arena on Sunday evening. Defeat Providence College in Game 3 of the Hockey East Quarterfinals and keep the dream of winning the Hockey East Championship and earning an invitation to the NCAA Northeast Regionals alive. Lose and say goodbye to your senior teammates and clean out your lockers at the Whittemore Center.
As UNH entered the overtime period with the game knotted up 1-1, the stakes could not have been more stark. The team's determination was summed up by senior Jay Camper:
“At the beginning of the (overtime) period, Tyler Kelleher came up to me and said ‘This isn’t my last game playing with you. We’re going to keep playing.’ ”The biggest impediment to victory, figuratively and literally, was 6'5". 215 lbs. Providence goalie Jon Gillies.
Gillies entered the quarterfinal series as the #1 goalie in Hockey East and #7 netminder in all of Division I with a save percentage of .929 and goals against average of 2.00. The conventional wisdom holds that the best way to get a puck past Gillies is to force him to move side-to-side. No doubt, UNH would have preferred to make this happen with 2-on-1 and 3-on-2 breaks into the Providence zone. However, PC's defensive style of clogging up the neutral zone and inhibiting opponents' transitions into their end made this very difficult.
Providence held UNH to 5 goals in the three-game series. Only one came on a play in which Gillies did not move side-to-side quick enough to make the save. In Game 1, sophomore Tyler Kelleher came at Gillies through the faceoff circle, deked toward the middle of the net, and drew the puck to his backhand. Gillies moved to the middle of the crease to stop a possible forehand shot by Kelleher but did not get back quick enough to the post to stop Tyler's backhand shot.
Grayson Downing's overtime goal in Game 1 and his goal late in the second period of Game 2 came from beyond the faceoff dots with players in front of Gillies. UNH had found a successful strategy for scoring against Providence. Take shots from out around the top of the slot with one or more players between the shooter and Gillies. It worked twice in the decisive third game and resulted in a thrilling, overtime victory.
After a scoreless first period, the red hot Grayson Downing potted the all-important first goal of the game early in the second period. Freshman wingers Shane Eiserman and Warren Foegele dug the puck out of corner, Eiserman sent a backhand pass to Downing at the top of the slot, and he one-timed a three quarter slapshot through a PC defender and over Gillies' glove. Downing is riding a 6-game goal-scoring streak including 2 game winners (vs. Providence and Merrimack) and a 2-goal game (vs. UCONN). He is now tied for second in goal scoring in Hockey East and tied for fifth in NCAA Division I.
Providence tied the score early in the third period during a multiplayer scrum in front of UNH freshman goalie Danny Tirone. He blocked five rapid-fire shots but the last one bounced off defenseman Cameron Marks and flew into the air. PC forward Nick Saracino batted the puck over the sprawling Tirone and into the net.
Midway through the third, UNH killed off two PC power plays. This was a key to victory because Providence had scored two power play goals in their 2-1 win on Saturday night. In the third and decisive game, Providence was awarded five power plays and UNH prevented Providence from scoring. In fact, UNH generated short handed shots during the Friars' power plays in the third period and in overtime.
In the overtime period, both teams were credited with 5 shots on goal. However, two of UNH's shots required spectacular saves by Gillies. The first came off the stick of Brett Pesce during a UNH power play. Gillies flashed his right skate at the last instant and deflected Pesce's wrist shot away. Casey Thrush had the other prime scoring attempt when UNH was shorthanded. Gillies got a piece of Thrush's shot with his right shoulder.
For the second time in the quarterfinal series, UNH defeated Providence with an overtime goal. On Friday night, it was senior Grayson Downing. On Sunday night, it was senior Jay Camper . For the second time in Sunday's game, freshmen Foegele and Eiserman were key contributors to the scoring play. Foegele stole the puck twice and Eiserman set up Brett Pesce for the decisive shot. Camper battled his way to the front of the net, backed into a Providence defenseman, and screened Gillies' view of Pesce's wrist shot from the top of the slot. The puck deflected off Camper's thigh and sailed over Gillies' glove.
Needless to say, the Hockey East Quarterfinal series between UNH and Providence was extremely tight. All three games were won by a score of 2-1. UNH's two overtime victories earned them a spot in the Hockey East Semifinals on Friday, March 20th at the TD Garden in Boston. The Wildcats will face the number one seed Boston University Terriers at 8:00.
UNH can point to several positives as it enters the semifinal series. They have won 10 of their last 12 games. Two of those wins came against teams who also advanced to the Hockey East semifinals. UNH defeated Vermont 6-3 on February 7th and Boston University 4-3 one week later on the 14th.
Freshman goalie Danny Tirone, who was named the Hockey East Defensive Co-Player of the Week following the Providence series, has only allowed 5 goals in the 5 playoff games so far. UNH's top scorers - Tyler Kelleher (17G, 24A), Grayson Downing (21G, 15A), and Matt Willows (19G, 16A) - all contributed multiple points in the Providence series. Kelleher scored a goal and an assist, Downing potted 3 goals, including a game-winner, and Willows registered 2 assists.
UNH's goal scoring against Providence came from its top three lines. The fourth line of Salvaggio-Smith-Hill brought high energy to the Providence games and was not scored upon. UNH's top scoring defensemen - Brett Pesce (3G, 13A) and Matias Cleland (6G, 12A) - each had an assist in the Providence series. Finally, except for defenseman Dylan Maller (foot injury), none of the the players who suited up for the Connecticut and Providence playoff series have injuries which kept them out of the lineup.
From what I saw on three successive nights at the Schneider Arena, the 2014-15 UNH hockey team is a determined group who are playing their best hockey of the season. They are fully aware that the only way to earn a berth in the NCAA Tournament is to defeat Boston University on Friday night and win the Hockey East Championship game on Saturday night. They are also well-versed in the formidable challenges that BU will present. Almost time to drop the puck.
Video Review of Goals and Key PlaysPERIOD 1
Generating Shots at Jon Gillies ~ Early in the period, UNH fired a number of quick shots in the direction of the Providence goalie. ~ As this sequence shows, UNH focused more on shooting than making plays in the Providence zone.
Solid Danny Tirone Saves 3:43 & 5:27 of 1st Period - UNH 0, Providence 0 ~ Officially, Danny Tirone made 8 saves in the first period. These two came during the first 5 minutes of the period. ~ The second stop came during PC's first of five power plays.
Jason Salvaggio Bids Late in 1st Period - UNH 0, Providence 0 ~ In all three games, UNH's fourth line of Salvaggio-Smith-Hill consistently brought energy. ~ On two occasions toward the end of the first period, freshman Jason Salvaggio carried the puck deep into the Providence zone and snapped quick wrist shots at Gillies.
Grayson Downing-21 (Assisted by Shane Eiserman-10 & Warren Foegele-11) 7:06 of Period 2 - UNH 1, Providence 0 ~ Foegele and Eiserman made this play possible by winning the puck battle in the corner and half-wall to Gillies right. Eiserman backhanded a pass to Downing at the top of the slot. ~ As he had done in Games 1 and 2, Downing beat Gillies - this time with a slap shot through a screen.
Brett Pesce Bid 16:58 of 2nd Period - UNH 1, Providence 0 ~ Junior defenseman Brett Pesce snapped a wrist shot from the right point with Tyler Kelleher and Andrew Poturalski screening Gillies. ~ The puck deflected off a PC defender and nearly slipped past Gillies glove.
Key Danny Tirone Saves 18:54 of 2nd Period - UNH 1, Providence 0 ~ With time winding down in the 2nd, PC generated one last rush into the UNH end. ~ Tirone blocked the initial shot but the rebound went off to his right. He smothered the subsequent shot.
Nick Saracino (Assisted by Acciari & Tanev) 1:20 of 3rd Period - UNH 1, Providence 1 ~ Tanev swooped behind the UNH net and flipped a backhand pass to Acciari open immediately to Tirone's left. Acciari peppered 3 shots at Tirone, he blocked each one but the rebounds eluded him, Cameron Marks and Andrew Poturalski. ~ With Tirone sprawled face-down on the ice, Saracino poked the puck at Tirone who made another block. This time the puck flew up into the air and bounced off Marks' right glove. Saracino batted the puck over the top of Tirone and into the net.
Dominant Penalty Kill by Grayson Downing & Brett Pesce 9:00 of 3rd Period - UNH 1, Providence 1 ~ With Casey Thrush in the penalty box after a borderline tripping call, Downing stole the puck at center ice, carried it into the PC end, and fed Pesce for a one-timer in the mid-slot. ~ Downing stole the puck again and killed off more time by passing back to Pesce in the neutral zone.
UNH Power Play Bids 17:05 of 3rd Period - UNH 1, Providence 1 ~ With 3 minutes left in regulation, Cameron Marks was elbowed by Anthony Florentino giving UNH its second power play of the game. ~ UNH crisply moved the puck and generated shots on Gillies by Furgele, Cleland, Poturalski, and Foegele.
UNH OT Power Play Bids 1:09 of Overtime - UNH 1, Providence 1 ~ On the second shift of overtime, Andrew Poturalski was boarded in the PC zone. ~ Once again, UNH generated several shots including a Grade A attempt by Tyler Kelleher and two by Brett Pesce.
Casey Thrush Shorthanded Bids 8:14 of Overtime - UNH 1, Providence 1 ~ With Poturalski in the penalty box for slashing, Casey Thrush stole the puck just inside the UNH blueline and rushed through center ice and into the Providence zone. ~ Thrush snapped a wrister, that Gillies blocked with his shoulder, and swiped the rebound back at Gillies.
Brett Pesce & Matt Willows Nearly Win It 10:07 of Overtime - UNH 1, Providence 1 ~ Pesce stole the puck at the half-wall in the UNH zone and sent Grayson Downing off on a break. ~ Downing sent a drop pass to Pesce who one-timed a slap shot from the top of the of faceoff circle to Gillies left. ~ Gillies just barely kicked the shot with his right skate but the rebound went to Willows streaking down the left wing. Willows' backhander went just wide of the post.
Jay Camper -4 (Assisted by Brett Pesce-13 & Shane Eiserman-11)
12:43 of Overtime- UNH 2, Providence 1 ~ The thrilling game winner began with freshman Warren Foegele stealing the puck along the boards at center ice. Foegele backhanded a pass to Jay Camper who carried it into the Providence zone. ~ A PC player poked the puck into the boards and Foegele gathered it again. This time he passed it to Shane Eiserman who tapped it back to Brett Pesce at the blueline. ~ Pesce stickhandled the puck to the top of the slot and fired a wrist shot at Gillies. ~ Meanwhile, Camper had advanced to the low slot in front of Gillies. Pesce's shot deflected off Camper's right thigh, past Gillies' glove and into the goal.