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Wildcats brush off tough weekend, prepare for quarterfinal with Providence

  • Maine goalie Martin Ouellette watches as his teammates Mark Nemec (3) abd Kyle Williams put the pressure on New Hampshire's Kevin Goumas during the second period of an NCAA college hockey game at the Whittemore Center, Saturday, March 9, 2013 in Durham, N.H. (AP Photo/Jim Cole)

    Maine goalie Martin Ouellette watches as his teammates Mark Nemec (3) abd Kyle Williams put the pressure on New Hampshire's Kevin Goumas during the second period of an NCAA college hockey game at the Whittemore Center, Saturday, March 9, 2013 in Durham, N.H. (AP Photo/Jim Cole)

  • New Hampshire celebrates a third period goal against Maine  at the Whittemore Center, Saturday, March 9, 2013 in Durham, N.H. The teams tied 4-4. (AP Photo/Jim Cole)

    New Hampshire celebrates a third period goal against Maine at the Whittemore Center, Saturday, March 9, 2013 in Durham, N.H. The teams tied 4-4. (AP Photo/Jim Cole)

  • Maine goalie Martin Ouellette watches as his teammates Mark Nemec (3) abd Kyle Williams put the pressure on New Hampshire's Kevin Goumas during the second period of an NCAA college hockey game at the Whittemore Center, Saturday, March 9, 2013 in Durham, N.H. (AP Photo/Jim Cole)

    Maine goalie Martin Ouellette watches as his teammates Mark Nemec (3) abd Kyle Williams put the pressure on New Hampshire's Kevin Goumas during the second period of an NCAA college hockey game at the Whittemore Center, Saturday, March 9, 2013 in Durham, N.H. (AP Photo/Jim Cole)

  • Maine goalie Martin Ouellette watches as his teammates Mark Nemec (3) abd Kyle Williams put the pressure on New Hampshire's Kevin Goumas during the second period of an NCAA college hockey game at the Whittemore Center, Saturday, March 9, 2013 in Durham, N.H. (AP Photo/Jim Cole)
  • New Hampshire celebrates a third period goal against Maine  at the Whittemore Center, Saturday, March 9, 2013 in Durham, N.H. The teams tied 4-4. (AP Photo/Jim Cole)
  • Maine goalie Martin Ouellette watches as his teammates Mark Nemec (3) abd Kyle Williams put the pressure on New Hampshire's Kevin Goumas during the second period of an NCAA college hockey game at the Whittemore Center, Saturday, March 9, 2013 in Durham, N.H. (AP Photo/Jim Cole)

Trevor van Riemsdyk spoke with a wide smile to match his unbridled enthusiasm. The last several weeks haven’t been easy for the University of New Hampshire men’s hockey team, but now the regular season’s over, the playoffs are starting and the sophomore defenseman can’t wait to get back on the ice.

“I think we’re all ready to go,” he said. “I know people are probably doubting us now, and we’ll just prove them wrong.”

The No. 7 Wildcats (18-9-7, 13-8-6 Hockey East) set themselves up to be the targets of doubters and naysayers when a one-point weekend against Maine brought them from the brink of a regular season championship to the road for their quarterfinal series against No. 17 Providence (15-12-7, 13-8-6). The Wildcats will have to win twice this weekend to advance, and considering that they’ve won only twice in their last 10 games, it’s safe to say they’re in for a challenge against what was one of Hockey East’s hottest teams down the stretch.

It’s a challenge, however, that van Riemsdyk is looking forward to.

“I know things didn’t end the way we had planned,” he said, “but this is what happens. A little adversity never hurt anyone come this time of year. We’re all pretty fired up to play.”

The message with the team was straightforward: Turn the page. With a do-or-die series getting started, as Coach Dick Umile said, there’s no other choice.

“We dealt with that after the (Saturday) game,” he said. “You have to. You have to move on. … What are you going to do about it? You can’t sit and waste energy about it and moan about it.”

Harping on the past is especially pointless considering the Wildcats still have their bigger goals in front of them. The team wanted to avoid leaving Durham to start the postseason, but UNH is only two strong efforts away from reaching the Hockey East semifinals at the TD Garden, a round they’ve only reached once since 2008.

The Wildcats’ national tournament outlook also remains bright. As a host team for the NCAA tournament, UNH would begin its chase of a first national title in Manchester – provided it makes the dance, either as Hockey East champion or via an at-large bid.

The chances of UNH missing out on the tournament altogether are slim, considering the team’s high place in the polls all year, but Umile didn’t want to issue any guarantees, especially considering the past weekend dropped the Wildcats from a tie for fourth to eighth in the PairWise rankings.

“Who knows?” he responded when asked if the team had, in all likelihood, wrapped up a bid. “At this point, we’ve got to win hockey games. Otherwise, we won’t get there.”

That means the focus is squarely on the Friars, and Umile acknowledged being in the playoffs can make concentration easier. There’s no more scoreboard watching, no more concern about bad weekends costing position in the standings. In the tournament, all teams have just one opponent to zero in on.

“There’s something to that point,” he said. “This is a whole new season. … I think the team is confident that we can win this series. We’ve matched up well with them, we know what the games are like.”

The head-to-head matchups with Providence backed Umile’s words, as the teams finished within two goals of each other in three games. The Wildcats were never able to get the upper hand, however, losing, 6-5, and tying 3-3 at the Whittemore Center and losing, 1-0, at Schneider Arena, where they’ll be tonight, tomorrow and (if necessary) Sunday.

The Friars’ success against UNH, combined with their 5-2-1 record in their final eight games and home ice advantage, might make them the favorite going in. But as ’Cats’ senior forward Austin Block suggested, after weeks in which the Wildcats had the stress of maintaining their position in the standings, it might help for the pressure to be on the other team taking the ice.

“We’re kind of the underdogs, I guess, coming in,” he said. “I don’t dislike that at all.”

Special effort

With Providence and UNH as evenly matched as they were during the year, Block pointed out that it could be the moments when either team has a man advantage on the ice that makes the difference.

“I think special teams are going to be huge,” he said. “Our penalty kill, I think we’re pretty good, and our power play’s kind of getting in sync here.”

The numbers support Block’s critique. UNH’s penalty kill is second-best in the country at 91.3 percent (behind only overall No. 1 Quinnipiac), and the power play has rebounded from a slump early in the second half with goals in eight of the Wildcats’ last nine games.

“The power play’s been great,” Umile said. “They’ve scored in key times. They’ve done a good job in that area. We’ve generated good scoring opportunities on the power play, and we’ve scored when we’ve had to.”

Family ties

Tonight’s game will be the fourth time Jon Gillies goes up against the Wildcats this season, but Providence’s goalie has ties to Durham that extend beyond his freshman year.

Gillies’s father, Bruce, was a standout goalie for the Wildcats, starting the 1983-84 and 84-85 seasons and eventually getting inducted into the school’s Hall of Fame in 2007. He ranks in the top 10 in team history in career goals against average, saves, games played, save percentage and wins, and his 1,065 saves in 1983-84 are third all-time.

Jon’s career has gotten off to an impressive start as well. The 6-foot-5 netminder boosted the Friars into the playoffs with a 2.06 goals against average, while his five shutouts and .932 save percentage ranked second and ninth, respectively, in the country.

Injury report

The Wildcats had a positive development on the health front, as Umile said junior forward Jeff Silengo, out since Feb. 17 with a concussion, is back skating, and is a possibility for action this weekend.

“He could potentially play, but we’ll see,” he said. “Whether he’s in the lineup or not will be determined, but he skated with us this week.”

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

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