Courtesy Vermont Sports Information
AMHERST, Mass. – John Leonard’s centering pass deflected off Philip Lagunov across the goal line before the net came off its pegs with 3.3 seconds left in overtime, lifting 8-seed UMass to a dramatic 3-2 victory over 9-seed Vermont in Game 1 of the Hockey East First Round on Thursday night at the Mullins Center.
Stefanos Lekkas stopped 38 shots and Matt Alvaro posted a goal and an assist, but UMass (16-17-2, 9-13-2 HEA) took a 1-0 lead in the best-of-three series. Cale Makar recorded two points and fellow rookie Matt Murray registered 31 saves in the series-opening victory for Massachusetts.
Vermont (9-19-7, 6-12-6 HEA) got the first power play opportunity of the game at 5:14 of the opening period and nearly scored in the final seconds of the man-advantage. Matt O’Donnell held the puck at the top of the zone and set up Ross Colton for the one-timer above the circle. Colton rifled a shot that was blocked by a Minutemen defender, but Craig Puffer collected the puck and whistled a shot that narrowly missed the right post.
UMass killed off the penalty and went on the offensive minutes later when Oliver Chau powered his way from the corner to the front of the net and wristed a shot that was turned away by Lekkas.
The Catamounts struck minutes later when Alvaro recovered a loose puck in front of the UMass goal and sniped a shot that went over the glove of Murray and into the top corner. Alvaro’s fourth goal of the season was unassisted with 6:51 left in the first period.
Leonard almost tied the game for the Minutemen in the second period when he gathered the puck and quickly fired a shot on goal that Lekkas had extend his leg to save.
UVM earned a 5-on-3 opportunity late in the middle frame and doubled the lead on Jake Massie’s second tally of the season. Massie and Alvaro exchanged passes at the top of the UMass zone before Massie walked in and blistered a wrister glove side on Murray. Liam Coughlin was credited with the secondary assist.
In the final minutes of the second period, Jarrid Privitera was handed a five-minute major for spearing that came with a game misconduct. UMass set up in the Catamounts’ zone but were unable to score before the buzzer.
The Minutemen continued the power play in the third period and cut the lead in half on a goal by Leonard just 59 seconds into the frame. Chau delivered a pass to the right corner for Leonard, who drove to the net and slipped a shot under the pads of Lekkas to cut the deficit in half.
Penalty trouble continued for the Catamounts when Alex Esposito was given two minutes and a misconduct for shooting after the whistle with 11:46 left in regulation. On the ensuing power play, Makar collected the puck behind the UMass goal and skated end-to-end, dangling past a Vermont defenseman before lifting a shot over Lekkas’ glove to tie the game.
UVM made a desperation block in the closing seconds of regulation off a defensive faceoff, sending Game 1 to overtime.
Both teams exchanged chances throughout the overtime period. Early on, Alvaro set Esposito up for one-timer over a sprawling Murray that just missed the goal short side. UMass countered minutes later when Chau saucered a pass to Mitchell Chaffee on a 2-on-1 rush, but Massie sprinted back to break up the play.
Game 1 seemed destined for double overtime, but In the final seconds of the extra frame, the Minutemen raced down the ice in transition. Leonard cut down the right wing through the circle and directed a pass to a crashing Lagunov that ricocheted off of the forward’s skate and into the net as it came loose. The goal was initially waved off, but after a lengthy review it was deemed that the puck crossed the line before the net moved, sealing the game for UMass at 19:56.
UVM returns to action against the Minutemen on Friday (Mar. 2) at 7 p.m. for Game 2 of the Hockey East First Round. The contest will be a must-win for the Catamounts, who will look to force Game 3 on Sunday.