Men’s Hockey Notebook: Special teams plague Huskies in 5-2 loss to New Hampshire

The UConn men's hockey team skates in a game against New Hampshire on Feb. 21, 2015. The Huskies fell to the Wildcats 5-2 last night in the first leg of the 2015 Hockey East playoffs. (Photo by Stephen Quick/The Daily Campus)

DURHAM, N.H. — It was far from a warm welcome to the playoffs for UConn on Friday night.

The Huskies were outshot, allowed three power play goals and Head Coach Mike Cavanaugh still described the 5-2 loss as more competitive than their last visit two weeks ago. That’s just the kind of game it was.

Far closer than it might appear on paper, UConn was subject to some unlucky plays and some uncharacteristic penalties and now must fight to keep their season alive tomorrow night.

Those Are The Breaks

UNH’s Tyler Kelleher opened up the scoring. UNH had an odd man rush and Brett Pesce threw the puck on goal. After bouncing around the crease for a heartbeat, Tyler Kelleher was able to force the puck past Nichols. It was the kind of fluke play that would sink UConn throughout the night.

The floodgates were thoroughly opened 70 seconds later when the Wildcats scored the first of three unanswered power play goals. Tyler Kelleher collected his second goal of the night when he was able to connect wood to an airborne puck and batted it past Nichols.

Shots were hard to come by for the Huskies in the second period. The Huskies seemed to be out of sync for most of the second period, spending a lot of time in their own zone. The Huskies' first shot was recorded until the ten-minute mark and the game looked over early before UConn’s leading goal scorer provided a much-needed lift.

Spencer Naas tried his hand at a wrister from the right faceoff circle. A roller coaster of a shot, the puck scraped ice, hit Shawn Pauly and somehow found its way over and past UNH goaltender Danny Tirone.

Trailing by three at the beginning of the third, UConn played their best hockey of the night in the final frame. The defense pulled together and was able to contain the Wildcats offense while the Huskies own offense was able to generate some chances of their own. Joey Ferris scored his second goal of the season to pull it within two halfway through the third but it was too little too late as UNH held on to take Game One.

Despite all that went wrong, Cavanaugh felt there more positives to take from this game than their last meeting.

“ I thought we played a much better game then we did two weeks ago up here. I was pretty happy with our kids’ effort especially when we were done 4-0. We chipped away and we played hard and we competed," Cavanaugh said.

Not-So-Special Teams

To say that the special teams played a huge role in this game would be an understatement.

UNH had five tries with the man advantage and converted three of them. Kelleher had his second goal of the night and Grayson Downing and Matt Willows contributed their own power play.

“You never want to be in the box. Especially in a game like this… Being in the box in an away rank, a bigger surface, that’s something that you can’t do and that’s somewhere we have to be disciplined,” said UConn captain Ryan Tyson.

Naas had only taken three penalties prior to Friday’s game but was whistled for two on the night.

UConn’s power play received five chances of their own but was only able to generate five shots.

Nichols Makes History

Among all the frustration of the night, goaltender Rob Nichols joined some elite company. Making 28 saves on the night, Nichols now sits at 1,010 saves on the season, making him one of only two UConn goalies to surpass 1,000 saves in a season. Garret Bartus, who played for the Huskies from 2009 to 2013, accomplished the feat twice.

“I guess that’s pretty cool,” said Nichols about joining Bartus. “Garrett had a great career and he’s still having a great career.”

It’s win or go home tomorrow as Game Two gets underway at 7 p.m. at the Whittemore Center.