It's always a close game when UConn and Vermont meet on the ice and tonight was no different. Unfortunately, the Catamounts got the best of the Huskies—for the third time this season—taking a 2-1 victory at the XL Center.
Vermont grabs a 1-0 lead in the series which will resume Saturday night at 7:05 p.m.
It was a very evenly matched game, particularly through the first two periods. Vermont got on the board first at the 1:28 mark with a goal on a rather unimpressive shot. Alexx Privitera dribbled one along the ice without much pace but still made it past Nichols' between his legs.
"(Goals) haven't come easy for us as of late," Vermont head coach Kevin Sneddon admitted. "I think it settled us down a bit and we played pretty solid from that point on."
The Huskies had a prime opportunity to tie it up when Kasperi Ojantakanen fired on a rebound a foot away from the net after a Spencer Naas wraparound attempt, but Vermont goalie Mike Santaguida did an amazing job to get his right leg in front of the puck and make the save. Santaguida had a great outing, making 32 stops on the night and earning second-star honors.
UConn got an equalizer in the first period. Spencer Naas, who has been around a lot of chances lately, sped out to create a 3-on-1 and fired a wrister past Santaguida. Unfortunately, it would be the only Husky goal on the night even though UConn finished the opening period strong and really played well throughout.
Naas nearly added a last-second goal where the puck made it into the net but it was deemed just a hair too late and the first period ended tied 1-1.
The second period seemed to be going the Huskies' way, they even pulled ahead in the shooting battle- which has been a rarity for them this season. But Vermont made the most of its opportunities and with 6:18 left in the second frame Rob Darrar slapped a one-timer from Kevin Irwin past Nichols to put the Catamounts ahead.
Through two periods it had been a pretty back-and-forth battle, with both sides trading runs of shots and solid chances at goal. Vermont came out strong in the third period and became the first team to dominate possession in the opponent's zone for an extended amount of time. It seemed to make the difference in the game.
"I thought we did a pretty good job the first five to seven minutes in the third period," Sneddon said. "We were able to wear them down a little bit."
Though UConn surged in the last ten minutes of the final period with some nice chances to try to tie it, Vermont was there to make the save, or hold possession on the other end, and ultimately maintain its lead until the final buzzer. Freshman Max Kalter had one of the best late chances in the attempt pictured above, but the puck sailed just a bit high and nicked the crossbar on its way to the boards.
Despite the loss, Cavanaugh was fairly pleased with his team's effort and appreciative of the crowd support as well.
"I want to thank our fans for coming out tonight," he said as he opened his post-game press conference. "I thought it was an electric atmosphere in there for our first playoff game. I was hoping we could have tied the game up because it was pretty crazy there for a while.
"Ultimately, I feel good about the way our team played, I liked the way we competed."
UConn should absolutely be proud of its effort for a full 60 minutes Friday night. Despite coming out on the wrong end of the final score, the Huskies are in good shape to even up the series in Game 2.
"I don't think we have to make a lot of adjustments," Cavanaugh said. "We might have to tweak some things...I like where we're at right now. I think tomorrow night if we put forth that effort again...we're going to give ourselves a great chance to win that game."