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Goumas does the trick, sends UNH to Hockey East semifinals

DURHAM – Kevin Goumas was trying to stay in the moment. But history was on his mind.

The University of New Hampshire men’s hockey team was about to start the third period of yesterday’s winner-take-all Hockey East quarterfinal game, with the Wildcats and Huskies locked in a 3-3 tie. As the team walked through the tunnel and jumped onto the ice, Goumas couldn’t help but think of his career to that point, and that it could be the last time he and the team’s other five seniors made the entrance they had done hundreds of times before.

“Absolutely. You think back, and it felt like I was a freshman,” he said. “It really did go by pretty fast, and sitting there with one period to go, that’s what I was pretty much thinking.

“But I also began thinking of getting the win, and getting to Boston, as well.”

Goumas took it upon himself to take care of that second thought, finishing off a hat trick with the go-ahead goal as UNH defeated No. 14 Northeastern, 5-4, to win the quarterfinal series 2-1 and advance to the TD Garden for the Hockey East semifinals.

It’ll be the first conference semifinals without a Boston team participating. But the fourth-seeded Wildcats (21-17-1), who started the season 1-5-1, will be there, a fact that pleased Coach Dick Umile.

“We’re absolutely thrilled to be going to Boston,” said Umile, whose team joins Providence, UMass-Lowell and Notre Dame in the tournament and will play the third-seeded Friars. “Being from Boston, I love taking UNH to Boston and playing at the (TD) Garden. … It was a great series. As you know from the score, it went back and forth. We found a way to win the game tonight, but it was crazy for both teams.”

It was as crazy as could be expected with two teams trying to keep their season alive. UNH came out flying, taking a 3-1 lead after the first, but the seesaw nature of the series returned when fifth-seed Northeastern (19-14-4) scored twice in the second to knot the score.

In the third, Goumas, who had scored the last two UNH goals, came through again. The Wildcats went on the power play at 4:15 of the period, and Goumas cashed in on the team’s first shot with the man advantage when he took a pass from Eric Knodel at the right point, skated toward the net into the slot and blasted a shot past Northeastern goalie Clay Witt (21 saves) for a 4-3 lead at 4:40 of the period.

“We had a good screen in front of the net, I don’t even know how it went in,” said Goumas, normally the team’s top playmaker but who attempted a team-high 11 shots yesterday. “I fired away, and hoped for the best.”

UNH extended the lead to 5-3 at 13:41 of the third. Matt Willows took the puck into the Northeastern zone, with Brett Pesce racing down the right side to make it a 2-on-1. Willows fired a shot that Witt got a piece of, and Pesce tipped in the deflection at full speed for the score before crashing into the boards.

“I saw a little opportunity,” Pesce said, “Got past the backchecker and Willows made a great shot, and I just kind of put it in.”

The score became the winning goal when Northeastern’s Mike Szmatula scored after dangling in front of goalie Casey DeSmith (22 saves) at 16:10. To Northeastern Coach Jim Madigan, it should have been the game-tying goal – the Huskies had a score called back at 7:38 when Mike McMurtry was called for a high stick on a deflection.

“They’re out there to make the right call, that’s what officials do,” Madigan said. “I just look at the trajectory of the puck and there’s no way – you have to look at a little forensics here – there’s no way that our guy could have touched the puck. … It’s a bad miss at a critical point in the game.”

The Huskies were forced to battle back after UNH seized control of the game early. The Wildcats quickly put the disappointment of Saturday’s 5-4 overtime loss behind them, as Sorkin beat Witt on a 2-on-1 at 3:29 of the first period and Goumas – again on a 2-on-1, this time shorthanded – scored on a wrister to make it 2-0 at 5:12.

Northeastern got within one when Torin Snydeman scored from behind the net off a skate at 13:09, but Goumas returned the advantage to 2 when he defected Pesce’s slapshot from the blue line at 17:13.

As they did in their win Saturday, the resilient Huskies erased the two-goal deficit, as Szmatula knocked in a rebound of a Braden Pimm shot at 4:28 and McMurtry got a piece of Pimm’s chip shot from the front of the crease after a feeding pass from Colton Saucerman at 14:27.

It had the makings of a second blown game in as many nights – this time with the fate of the season on the line – but the Wildcats didn’t let this one get away.

“Again, we gave up a two-goal lead, but the guys stayed with it, and obviously the next goal was the most important,” Umile said.

The next goal ended up sending the Wildcats on their way back to the Hockey East semifinals, where they’ve been only once since 2009 after going every year between 2002 and ’08.

It’s an overdue return – and after wondering if their season was ending, Goumas and the seniors are happy to add it as another chapter.

“The last time was when I was a freshman (in 2011), so it’s pretty exciting,” he said. “It’s probably one of the best experiences ever, and you tell the young guys you only get so many chances to do this.”

(Drew Bonifant can be reached at 369-3340 or or on Twitter @dbonifant.)

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