Rookie Mario Puskarich scored the team-leading seventh game-winning goal of his freshman campaign five and a half minutes into overtime on Saturday night, lifting 15th-ranked Vermont to a 3-2 victory over eighth-ranked UMass Lowell in Game 2 of the Hockey East Quarterfinals at Tsongas Center.
With the win, the Catamounts force a Game 3 in the best-of-three series on Sunday (Mar. 16) at 4:30 p.m. UVM is just the fifth No. 7 seed to force a Game 3 in the quarterfinal round in the history of the Hockey East Tournament.
Vermont collected its 20th win of the season and improves to 20-13-3 (10-10-0 HEA), while the River Hawks fall to 22-10-4 (11-6-3 HEA). Puskarich tied the NCAA lead in game-winning goals and tallied his 19th of the season overall, while Michael Paliotta posted two assists. UVM went 2-for-3 on the power play, scoring its first two goals with the man advantage.
"We battled hard. Lowell did a tremendous job putting a lot of pressure on us certainly in the first half of the game," said head coach Kevin Sneddon. "As the game wore on, we started to get our legs underneath us and find ways to come out of our zone. It's a game of inches and we were fortunate to come out ahead. It could have gone either way."
UVM struck first for the second straight night with a late tally on its second power play of the opening period. Brady Shaw fed a pass up the right wing for Jonathan Turk along the right half boards in the UMass Lowell zone. Turk wristed the puck toward the low slot and it deflected into the net off the skate of defenseman Jake Suter. Brody Hoffman picked up his second assist on the play at 18:53 of the first.
The River Hawks answered on their first power play of the game at 8:43 of the middle frame. Derek Arnold fired a point shot on target that Hoffman kicked out to the left circle with his pad. Joe Pendenza quickly turned a low shot on goal and beat Hoffman five-hole to knot the score at one.
Shaw nearly netted his third goal of the weekend late in the second as Jake Fallon skated down the left wing on a 4-on-2 rush. Fallon found Shaw in the slot as he settled the puck, but the rookie's low shot missed the net to the left. Lowell held an 11-5 shot advantage in the second and the score remained 1-1 after 40 minutes.
The Catamounts earned another power play early in the third period and worked the puck to the left point for Rob Hamilton, who fed Paliotta at the right point. Paliotta fired a shot toward the net as the puck bounced around the top of the crease, and Brendan Bradley batted it home past Connor Hellebuyck at 5:53 to restore the lead.
Less than two minutes later, UMass Lowell equalized again as Joe Gambardella broke up a pass at the River Hawk blue line. The play sprung Scott Wilson on a clean breakaway and he trickled a shot off the underside of Hoffman's glove into the net.
Neither team found the back of the net for the remainder of the third and the teams headed to overtime. Paliotta found Lenz to begin the game-winning play as the senior skated down the right wing and fired a slap shot on goal. Hellebuyck made the initial stop and the rebound bounced down in the slot. Puskarich located the loose puck and wristed a quick shot into the open net for the deciding tally.
"I was just trying to drive the net. H.T. had it wide. He had a great shot for a rebound, it came out to me and I just found the open net," Puskarich said. "I didn't really look. I just tried to get it to the net as quick as possible and luckily it went in."
Vermont and UMass Lowell face off at Tsongas Center in a Game 3 of their quarterfinal series on Sunday afternoon at 4:30 p.m.
Courtesy: Vermont Athletics
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