PROVIDENCE, R.I. -- Led by Matt Willows' hat-trick, seventh-ranked New Hampshire (19-10-7, 13-8-6 HEA) defeated seventeenth-ranked Providence (16-13-7, 13-8-6 HEA) by a score of 4-1 on Saturday afternoon at Schneider Arena to even their best-of-three Hockey East Quarterfinal series at one game apiece.
Willows scored the eventual game winner only 1:45 into the second period for the Wildcats. Friar Freshman Nick Saracino (St. Louis, Mo.) cut the lead in half at 3:32 of the second period but a two-goal third period by UNH proved to be enough to force a third game in the series.
The Friars outshot UNH, 39-24, in the loss as Casey DeSmith stopped 38 shots for the Wildcats. Freshman goaltender Jon Gillies (South Portland, Maine) made 20 saves for the Friars and also recorded his first career point with an assist.
At the end of the first period, UNH led 1-0 after Willows posted a goal at 15:19. Following an offensive zone face-off win, Willows collected the puck, closed in on Gillies and found the back of the net to give the Wildcats the advantage. Kevin Goumas and Brett Pesce assisted on the goal.
Willows notched his second goal of the game just 1:45 into the second period to give the Wildcats a 2-0 lead. Goumas added his second assist of the game when he connected a cross ice pass to Willows, who was open right in front of the Providence goal and fired the puck into an open net.
Providence cut the lead in half when Saracino continued his hot streak against New Hampshire with a power-play goal at 3:32 of the period. The play started when Gillies slid the puck to freshman John Gilmour (Montreal, Quebec). Gilmour started the rush up the ice and found Saracino with a pass. Saracino fired a quick shot that went high on DeSmith to cut the deficit to one.
Down by a goal, the Friars came close to tying the game when senior Tim Schaller (Merrimack, N.H.) broke into the Wildcat zone after receiving a pass from classmate Alex Velischek (Kinnelon, N.J.) and fired a shot that rang off of the crossbar.
New Hampshire grabbed a two goal lead when Jeff Silengo took a deceptive looking shot from outside the face-off circle that went five-hole on Gillies after deflecting off a skate at 17:33.
The Wildcats capped off the win when Willows completed his hat-trick with an empty net goal at 18:23 of the final period to force the series to a decisive game three.
The Friar power play went 1-for-3, while New Hampshire was 0-for-1 with the man advantage.
The final game of the series will be played tomorrow at 4:40 p.m. at Schneider Arena. The game will be televised live on NESN as the two teams will play for a spot in the Hockey East Semifinals.
Nick Saracino has seven points (5g, 2a) in his last 6 games and nine points (6g, 3a) in five games this season against New Hampshire ... John Gilmour has a two-game point streak (1g, 1a), his first point streak since games on Oct. 20 and 27, 2012 ... Goaltender Jon Gillies recorded his first collegiate point with an assist on Saracino's goal ... The Friars will be vying for a spot in the Hockey East Semifinals, which they have appeared in 10 times including last season ... All-time in Hockey East Quarterfinal game threes, Providence is 3-3 (including game three quarterfinal losses to New Hampshire in 1990 and 2004) ... The last Hockey East quarterfinal game three to take place at Schneider Arena was on March 11, 2001 when the Friars posted a 4-3 clinching win over Boston University.