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UNH hockey team solves Northeastern in 3-1 victory

BOSTON – It looked like more of the same. Another trip to Matthews Arena for the University of New Hampshire men’s hockey team, and another night spent struggling to get the puck past whichever goalie took the net for Northeastern.

This time, however, the offense broke through. And Casey DeSmith wasn’t going to let it go to waste.

DeSmith made a season-high 47 saves for No. 3 UNH, which took the lead for good with two second-period goals less than a minute apart en route to a 3-1 win over the Huskies.

“We knew it was going to be a battle coming down here. They’re a good team,” Coach Dick Umile said. “Our guys battled hard … and obviously, Casey stood tall.”

DeSmith was excellent, consistently coming to the rescue of a Wildcats team that was outshot each period. He was at his best as UNH (16-6-2, 11-5-1 Hockey East) tried to close out the game in the third period, keeping Northeastern (7-13-3, 4-11-3) off the board in back-to-back power plays and preventing the Huskies from finding the net despite playing the final 1:37 with a two-man advantage.

“That’s what we pay him for,” Umile joked.

Impressive, but it wasn’t going to do much good unless UNH figured out the offensive woes that had begun to plague it at the 102-year-old arena. The Wildcats were shut out by Chris Rawlings in their last trip to Matthews last year and by Bryan Mountain this October, and an answer didn’t appear close when the first period ended with a scoreless tie despite UNH being outshot 16-11.

The Wildcats broke out of the slump in a hurry. Dan Correale brought the puck up and dragged Rawlings over, and his centering pass bounced off the goalie’s pad and went straight to Grayson Downing. The sophomore put the loose puck into the open net for the goal, ending a scoreless stretch of 150:29 at Matthews and giving UNH a 1-0 lead with 15:59 left in the period.

The Wildcats struck again on the next shift. Kevin Goumas brought the puck up to the right point and found defenseman Eric Knodel open in the high slot, and the defenseman’s wrist shot beat Rawlings for a 2-0 lead only 45 seconds after Downing’s goal. UNH just missed scoring a third goal seconds later, when Goumas hit the post on a 2-on-1 rush.

“We had some great looks that they gave us,” Umile said. “After we got the second one I thought it was a goal, it was a good play, great shot by Goumas off the crossbar.”

Northeastern finally beat DeSmith with 12:35 left in the period, when Colton Saucerman threw the puck toward the net as a crowd gathered in front of the goalie. The puck bounced off of Kevin Roy’s stick and right to Vinny Saponari, and the Huskies captain knocked it in to trim the gap to one.

The Wildcats went on the power play at the end of the second, however, and took advantage early in the third. Goumas took a feed from Connor Hardowa and slid the puck across the ice to a wide-open John Henrion inside the left circle, and the senior’s one-timer beat Rawlings with six seconds left in the advantage and 18:14 remaining in the game.

“It was a really close game the whole way through,” Henrion said. “Rawlings is a great goaltender, so anytime you can score on him and take a two-goal lead, you’re more comfortable. We just wanted to finish strong, stay on the attack and make sure we play defense correctly.”

With Northeastern owning the advantage in shots on goal all game, the goal provided insurance that Umile said the team needed.

“That third goal by John was a huge goal for us,” he said.

Ultimately, insurance was a moot point. DeSmith was on his game, looking like the player who was named Hockey East Goalie of the Month in October and November after suffering a few rough outings in January.

“It’s a tough thing to bounce back, and I’m glad that I was able to start playing well again for the team,” he said. “I definitely felt good the last couple of games, so hopefully we can keep that going.”

(Drew Bonifant can be reached at 369-3340 or at abonifant@cmonitor.com, or via Twitter @dbonifant.)

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