College Hockey: UNH evens series, forces deciding game Sunday with Providence
In sports, it's about timing.
Suffice to say Matt Willows' timing was impeccable Saturday for the University of New Hampshire.
Willows, a sophomore forward, registered the first hat trick of his collegiate career as fifth-seeded UNH beat fourth-seeded Providence College, 4-1, to even their Hockey East quarterfinal series at one win apiece.
The deciding game will be played at 4:30 p.m. Sunday at Schneider Arena.
"It feels great," Willows said of his performance. "Having one goal or two goals, never mind three, feels great.
"We've just got to move forward and give the same effort we did tonight - a team effort - and give the same effort tomorrow."
Invariably as is often the case in hockey, the first goal can set the tone for the game.
That's exactly what happened Saturday when Willows deked PC goalie Jon Gillies (20 saves) and stuffed the puck inside the right post at 15:19 of the first period.
"That was huge," Willows said. "It's always great to get up early and work off it. It felt good to get the first one. The guys kind of worked off it and we just went from there."
Kevin Goumas, who centers a line between Dan Correale and Willows, was credited with three assists - a point which was noted by UNH coach Dick Umile.
"Matt played great and that line played well," Umile said. "There were a couple of nice passes by Goumas who's a good player.
"That line played well and we got balance from everybody. We scored at key times and it's all about scoring when you need to."
Without question third-line center Jeff Silengo scored when UNH (19-10-7) needed a goal which in this case was the third period which began with the Wildcats leading 2-1.
Silengo unloaded a slap shot from the top of the left circle which appeared to deflect off a skate and past Gilles at 17:33.
Willows then scored into an empty net with 1:37 remaining to insure there would be a third game in the series.
At face value, there was minimal difference between how UNH played Saturday as compared with how it played Friday when Providence (16-13-7) won 3-2.
"I think it was the finishing," Umile said of the difference between Game 1 and Game 2. "We played hard yesterday and didn't get that third goal.
"We played hard and obviously lost that game. But the guys came back today. They were a determined group. They played with some confidence. They played together and it was a good team effort by everybody."
Willows gave UNH a 2-0 lead on a snap shot from the left circle at 1:45 of the second. But PC countered during a power play when Nick Saracino - who's feasted on the Wildcats all season - beat Casey DeSmith (38 saves) with a wrist shot from the slot at 3:32.
The goal was Saracino's sixth against UNH this season.
"I don't want to see Saracino again," Umile said with a smile. "He's a heck of a hockey player."
The obvious question now is does either team have an advantage going into Game 3?
"Nobody has an advantage," Umile said. "I think it's two teams that are pretty evenly matched. Tomorrow's going to be who plays well and who controls the transition game. The transition game is important.
"We're quick and they're quick. You can be aggressive but you better make sure you're not giving up odd-man rushes. That's the key to the game."