Win over UMass will lock up playoff spot for ‘Cats
Win and they're in. It's that simple.
Coming into the penultimate weekend of the regular season with a four-point lead over UMass in the Hockey East standings, the UNH men's hockey team needs just one win (or a pair of ties) against the Minutemen this weekend to clinch a spot in the conference tournament.
"We're basically in the playoffs [already]," UNH head coach Dick Umile said. "This is all playoff hockey for us. We're just trying to win our games."
The Wildcats had a chance to lock up a playoff bid last weekend, but managed just a split with lowly Vermont. Though UNH controlled play for much of the weekend, defensive lapses in the final minutes of Friday's allowed the Catamounts to net two late goals – one with 14 seconds left in regulation and another in overtime – and pick up the upset.
"Thank God we came and won Saturday, because we gave it away on Friday," Umile said. "We played so well. I though, on Friday except for the last couple minutes and it cost us the game, but I think we managed it much better on [Saturday]."
Failure to close out tight games like this has prevented the Wildcats from climbing above the lower tier of Hockey East. SInce Jan. 7, UNH is 7-5-1, with all five of those losses coming by just one goal and four ending in overtime.
"We've played pretty well this second half [of the season]," Umile said. "The games that we've lost have been overtime or one-goal games. We found ways to give them away; the BC game, the Vermont game the other night. But we've competed hard and we've been in every game."
The UMass team that the Wildcats will face this weekend as struggled down the stretch, losing six of its last eight games, but an impressive 7-3-3 home record shows that the MInutemen are a tough squad to beat in tier own barn.
Goaltending has been an area of concern in Amherst this year, as none of the three Minuteman netminders have particularly impressive stat sheets. Freshman Kevin Boyle has been the top performer, holding a 7-4-4 record through 17 games played.
Both Boyle and fellow freshman Steve Mastalerz were shelled in Umass' visit to the Whittemore Center back on Nov. 4, allowing a combined seven goals in a 7-3 UNH victory.
"We've had some great match-ups with UMass," Umile said. "It's been crazy out there. We had a couple where they tied us up at the buzzer and ended up winning in overtime. We've had some crazy stuff happen."
UNH will be without freshman Casey Thrush on Friday, who is sitting out after being ejected from last Saturday's game for hitting from behind. The third/fourth line winger has 10 points and a team-high +8 plus/minus rating in his first season in Durham, and will likely return to the lineup on Saturday.
Game time for both Friday and Saturday is 7 p.m. at the Mullins Center.
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