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‘Cats choke in the clutch

It was a collapse of epic proportions.
Despite losing Friday night’s away game at UConn by a 4-1 score, the Wildcats could have locked up home ice for the first round of the Hockey East playoffs with a win at home on Saturday night. UNH found itself up three goals over the Huskies but let the lead slip away in the third period, ultimately losing the game in overtime.
“Absolutely disappointed,” UNH head coach Dick Umile said. “Don’t have a whole lot to say, but nothing but disappointment.”
The Wildcats traveled to Connecticut on Friday night and had the opportunity to lock up the eighth seed in the conference with a win. But the Wildcats did not get off to a good start on the road.
The Huskies gained an early 2-0 lead off of a shorthanded goal from Corey Ronan and a power play tally by Shawn Pauly in the first period. UConn maintained the two-goal lead for the entirety of the first period.
Jamie Hill’s second goal in three games halved the UNH deficit but proved to be the only offense UNH would muster despite 37 shots.
Max Letunov scored the third UConn goal, before Joseph Masonious added a shorthanded goal that gave UConn insurance in what ended as a 4-1 win for the Huskies. The win ensured that the winner of the weekend’s second game would maintain home ice for the first round of the playoffs.
The Wildcat seniors were honored before the puck dropped on Saturday night, but it was UNH’s young guns that came out firing.
Two early goals came from the power play. Michael McNicholas’ third goal of the season and Matias Cleland’s fourth gave UNH a 2-0 lead in the first period.
Shane Eiserman increased the lead to three, before UConn got a goal back. Maxim Gaudreault scored another UNH goal and UNH looked to have the game locked up.
But the third period was a disaster for the Wildcats. UNH had trouble in its own zone and the Huskies pounced, netting two goals with 10 minutes left in regulation.
Desperation forced the Huskies to pull Nichols to get an extra attacker late in the game, but the gamble paid off when the Huskies scored their fourth goal of the game with 63 seconds left on the clock.
Overtime didn’t last long for the Wildcats, as Ronan put a fluttering puck past UNH goalie Danny Tirone 3:08 into the overtime period. The 5-4 victory ensured the Huskies would play at home next weekend, while the Wildcats will be forced to hit the road.
“I guess, like I said, shift all of our focus to Merrimack and see what we can do against them in that small rink,” senior captain Collin MacDonald said of what the team needs to do moving forward. “We’ve had success there this year, so the message is really just do or die obviously.”
The ‘Cats will play Merrimack in a best-of-three series, starting Thursday night at 7 p.m.

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