CAMBRIDGE, Mass. - Lindsey Minton (Richardson, Texas), the reigning Hockey East Rookie of the Week, made a career-high 33 saves and Courtney Birchard (Mississauga, Ontario) scored at 4:21 of overtime to lift the fifth-ranked University of New Hampshire women's ice hockey team to Tuesday night's 3-2 non-conference victory against ninth-ranked Harvard University at the Bright Hockey Center.
UNH, which has clinched Hockey East's top seed and will host the semifinals and final March 7-8, extended its winning streak to 11 games to improve to 20-5-5. The Wildcats have won 20+ games all seven years of head coach Brian McCloskey's tenure. Harvard, which entered the game 9-1-0 in its last 10 games, is now 15-9-3 overall.
With the game tied 2-2 at the end of regulation, Harvard's Sarah Vaillancourt was denied at the right doorstep by Minton's left leg pad at 1:45 of the extra session. Thirty seconds later at the other end of the ice, Sam Faber (Mt. Sinai, N.Y.) was denied twice in the slot by HU goalie Christina Kessler. In a continuation of the game's fast pace from regulation, the Crimson counterattacked. Vaillancourt corralled a loose puck at the right doorstep but Minton, prone on the ice, scrambled to make a glove save.
With 90 seconds remaining in the five-minute extra session, Sarah Wilson's shot from the left circle through traffic was enveloped by Minton. Nine seconds later, the Crimson was whistled for a penalty in the offensive zone.
Harvard cleared the puck the length of the ice with one minute to play and the Wilcats re-entered the offensive zone with 51 seconds on the clock. Moments later, Faber won the puck on the left halfboards to Jenn Wakefield (Pickering, Ontario), who swung the puck to Birchard in the high slot. Birchard carried the puck to the right circle and blasted a screened shot into the cage to end the game.
Minton made 17 saves in the third period and stopped three shots in OT. Kessler was credited with two saves in the extra session and 28 overall.
In the first period, Harvard nearly took an early lead as Kate Buesser's shot from the slot went 5-hole vs. Minton, but the puck caromed off the back of the right leg pad and tricked wide of the right post.
UNH's first dangerous scoring bid that produced a shot on goal came in the 11th minute, when Wakefield won a faceoff in the right circle back to the slot. She then advanced to the net and, from the right doorstep, redirected a shot into Kessler.
In the 13th minute, Micaela Long (South Boston, Mass.) led a 'Cat rush down the left wing. Her wrist shot from the circle was knocked down by Kessler into the slot and the Crimson defense eventually cleared the loose puck.
Harvard quickly went on the counterattack and Jenny Brine, with a redirection at the left post, was foiled by Minton.
New Hampshire took a 1-0 lead at 17:28 of the opening stanza on one of its rare first-period counterattacks. Courtney Sheary (Melrose, Mass.) initiated the sequence with an outlet pass from the defensive zone to Shannon Sisk (Pipersville, Pa.) on the left wing. She carried the puck into the left circle and her centering pass to the slot was shot into the net by the charging Julie Allen (Brampton, Ontario).
In the second period, UNH was called for a tripping infraction at 1:45, but it was the Wildcats who first threatened and then scored to take a 2-0 lead. Kelly Paton (Woodstock, Ontario) intercepted a pass just outside the offensive zone, regained her balance and pushed the puck down the right side of the slot. With Kessler charging from the goalmouth, Paton lunged and lifted the puck into the goalie's torso. One minute later, however, Paton stole the puck in the left circle and sent a pass across the slot to Wakefield, who, with outstretched arms, slung a shot into the net at 3:34.
Two minutes later, with UNH on the power play, tic-tac-toe passing set up Wakefield at the left faceoff dot, but Kessler slid into position to make the save and covered the puck at her feet before Paton and Sam Faber (Mt. Sinai, N.Y.) could swipe at a rebound.
In the seventh minute, Kacey Bellamy (Westfield, Mass.) joined the rush late down the slot but was turned aside by Kessler's right leg pad. Harvard again advanced the puck quickly to the attacking zone and Amy Uber's redirection from the slot was stopped by Minton, who covered the rebound with Crimson skaters in the immediate area.
Harvard pulled within 2-1 at 9:21 when Vaillancourt gained possession on the right wing at mid-ice, carried the puck along the dashers and maneuvered to the low slot to beat Minton.
UNH gained a two-skater advantage for 77 seconds at 10:45 and peppered Kessler with a number of shots from close range, but she kept the home team's deficit at one goal. Wakefield had beat the Crimson goalie at 11:20, but the net was dislodged from the net and the score remained 2-1.
Harvard's penalty-kill unit, which has not surrendered a power-play goal in 36 consecutive shorthanded situations, did the rest of the work in the remaining 85 seconds of UNH's power play to keep the score at 2-1.
Kathryn Farni leveled the score, 2-2, at 15:34 when she kept the puck in the offensive zone at the right point and sent a shot towards the net that floated through traffic into the upper-left corner.
Harvard buzzed around the offensive zone in the third period to generate a 17-9 shot advantage. Minton was spectacular at times, including a stop against Vaillancourt from the right doorstep at 15:00 and another save to deny Brine, again at the right doorstep, with the Crimson on the power play at 17:30.
New Hampshire concludes the regular season Feb. 21-22 with a home-and-home series against the University of Connecticut. UNH is on the road Feb. 21 (1 p.m.) and will hold its Senior Day at the Whittemore Center on Feb. 22 (2 p.m.).
Tickets are available now for the regular-season finale and Hockey East Championship tournament tickets will go on sale later this week.