PROVIDENCE — There is something to be said for chasing home ice. All four Hockey East teams that played the tournament quarterfinals in their rinks have advanced to the semifinals Friday night at TD Garden.
On Sunday, in the only quarter to reach a third and deciding game, No. 4 seed Providence outlasted No. 5 New Hampshire to win, 3-2, at Schneider Arena.
No. 1 UMass-Lowell (24-10-2) will take on the Friars (17-13-7) Friday at 5 p.m., and No. 2 Boston College (22-10-4) will face No. 3 Boston University (20-15-2) at 8. The first is a matchup of up-and-coming programs and the second of traditional juggernauts.
“They’ve got a very good team, they’ve got a top-10 team in the nation and a top-10 team in the PairWise [the formula used to determine the NCAA Tournament teams ],’’ Providence coach Nate Leaman said of UNH. “I thought it was a tough matchup to get home ice in the playoffs and to get a team of that caliber, but that speaks to the level of play in this league.’’
Providence jumped on UNH early. At 1:31 of the opening period freshman left wing Mark Jankowski collected a centering pass from Tim Schaller and beat Casey DeSmith (22 saves) for a 1-0 lead.
The Wildcats pulled even at 17:07, when senior right wing John Henrion pounced on a rebound and beat freshman Jon Gillies (30 saves).
UNH carried that momentum into the second period. The Wildcats got their first lead at 10:31 during a power play when defenseman Trevor van Riemsdyk faked a shot from the point, and instead slid a pass down to sophomore center Grayson Downing, who was near the right post. Downing lifted it past Gillies and it was 2-1.
But the Friars answered in strong fashion with a pair of goals on the man advantage just 44 seconds apart.
With six seconds remaining on a power play, Schaller beat DeSmith from the right circle.
Henrion committed a slashing penalty as the goal was being scored, and Providence made him pay when freshman left wing Nick Saracino scored off a scramble in front.
The Friars went into the second intermission with a 3-2 lead, and held it, improving Leaman’s record to 28-0-2 when his team is in front after two.
The Wildcats’ penalty killing, was tops in the nation for most of the season, let them down.
Now UNH, which was tied for seventh in the PairWise rankings going into the weekend, will have to wait and see if they make the NCAAs.
“You never know,’’ said coach Dick Umile, whose squad is expected to be among the field of 16. “Hopefully we get an opportunity. As I told the team, I like the way our team is playing. I think they’ve earned it. You have to sit back and watch and hopefully nothing crazy happens.’’
Providence likely needs to win twice more to have a chance. The Friars came in tied for 19th in the PairWise.
“There’s no doubt we’ve improved a lot over the season,’’ said Leaman. “That is what is hurting us with the NCAA Tournament right now. I would never have said this to the guys, but it’s tough to stomach a little bit with the NCAA Tournament because of how well we’ve played.
“You’ve seen a young team in the first half and you knew you were going to have some ups and downs, but then in the second half I think we’ve been a pretty darn good team and beaten a lot of good teams.
I still think we have another level to us. But we kind of keep improving. You’re going to see that with young teams.’’