UMass beats Vermont in OT, 3-2, in thrilling Hockey East playoff opener

  • UMass defenseman Cale Makar looks to make a play against Vermont, Thursday at the Mullins Center. UMass won the Hockey East playoff game, 3-2, in overtime. UMass leads the best-of-three series 1-0. Game 2 is Friday night at 7 p.m. in Amherst. GAZETTE STAFF/CAROLINE O’CONNOR

Friday, March 02, 2018

AMHERST — First came a cheer. Then a groan. Then anxious waiting followed by chanting. The cheer that finally followed was louder than the first, louder than any jubilation at a UMass hockey game in a long time.

When Scott Hanson emerged from reviewing video and pointed to center ice signaling the Minutemen’s game-winning goal, the 2,573 fans at the Mullins Center erupted as UMass prevailed 3-2 in overtime against Vermont in Game 1 of the Hockey East best-of-three playoff series, Thursday.

With just over 10 seconds left, John Leonard bull-rushed his way out of a scrum on the right-wing boards near UMass’ defensive blue line. He gathered momentum as he crossed into the offensive zone, heaving the puck at the net. Racing through the center of the ice, Philip Lagunov crashed the net and the rebound caromed off his face into the goal.

The goal was waved off because the official thought it had been kicked in. They immediately went to the video. The fans chanted for a scoreboard replay and the Mullins Center obliged. After it showed they chanted “goal, goal, goal” repeatedly until Hanson emerged and agreed

“I was pretty confident it was a goal,” Lagunov said. “I knew I didn’t touch the goalie.”

UMass leads the series 1-0. The Minutemen can clinch Friday at 7 p.m. at the Mullins Center. The teams would play Sunday at 3 p.m. if a third game is necessary.

“Both teams played hard and played well,” UMass coach Greg Carvel said. “Our best player rose to the top. The play Johnny made in our defensive zone to get up the ice was unbelievable. Our most skilled guys made the difference tonight.”

Vermont scored the only goal in a mostly evenly played first period.

Matt Alvaro jumped on a poor UMass clear attempt in the slot and snapped it past goalie Matt Murray with 6:51 left to put the visitors up 1-0.

With UMass in the early stage of killing a penalty already down 1-0, the Minutemen had iced the puck. But behind the play, Ivan Chukarov and Jake Massie were entangled in front of the net. As the Vermont defenseman tried to get up, Chukarov cross-checked him back to the ice in full view of the officials.

The penalty gave Vermont a 5-on-3 for 1:29. The Catamounts took advantage as Massie beat Murray with 3:14 left in the period to make it 2-0.

The chippiness escalated from there. Vermont’s Jarrid Privitera was assessed a 5-minute major and a game misconduct for spearing Cale Makar with 1:40 left in the second.

UMass came out for the third period in some combination of energized and angry. The Minutemen scored on the power play that carried over when Leonard, who missed the last two games with an upper-body injury, walked out of the right-wing corner and snapped it past Stephanos Lekkas to make it 2-1, 59 seconds into the third.

The prettiest goal of Makar’s college career tied the game on the power play. The lifelong admirer of Bobby Orr scored a goal worthy of his hero. Starting with the puck behind his own net, he stepped around three Catamounts like they were green cones and flipped the puck past Lekkas to tie the game with 11:25 left in the third.

“With Cale’s speed he can beat anybody,” Leonard said. “It was an unbelievable play by him.”

Murray made 31 saves for the Minutemen (16-17-2).

Matt Vautour can be reached at mvautour@gazettenet.com. Get UMass

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