BOSTON — From the opening drop of the puck, Providence peppered Ryan Massa with shots.
The No. 15 Friars (25-13-2), the last at-large team selected for the NCAA tournament, kept the pressure on the UNO goaltender early on at TD Garden. And, for a while, the senior was up to the challenge.
Massa turned aside the first 28 Providence chances, making save after save to keep the first of two Frozen Four semifinals scoreless through the first 30 minutes while his team generated little on offense.
Then a fortunate rebound for Providence went between the legs of Maverick defender James Polk in front of the net. Friars captain Noel Acciari flipped it in with a backhand. And his team led from then on.
Providence ended No. 9 UNO’s tourney run with a 4-1 victory Thursday in the national semifinals. The Friars, who outshot the Mavs 48-26, will face No. 2 Boston University Saturday for the NCAA title.
“I thought Massa played a terrific game tonight, and we could have gotten frustrated,” Providence coach Nate Leaman said. “I was really pleased with our mental toughness because I thought we could have gotten frustrated, but we stuck with it. We stuck with it. And we finally got a bounce and got the first one.”
The Acciari goal put UNO (20-13-6) behind for the first time in the tournament. And the Mavs found it tough to get scoring chances against Providence goaltender Jon Gillies, who finished with 25 saves.
Mark Jankowski, Calgary’s first-round pick of the 2012 NHL draft, extended the Friars’ lead to 2-0 by taking a crisp pass from Nick Saracino and maneuvering the puck past Massa with 5:02 left in the period.
The Mavs managed only 16 shots on goal through two periods, but they never felt they were out of the game.
“We talked about getting the next goal when it was 2-0 between the second and third period, no matter what the shots were, because we’re a team that has come back during the course of the year,” Mavs coach Dean Blais said. “Quite a few times. And the third period is usually our best period.”
Thursday was no exception. Jake Guentzel got the Mavs back in the game, albeit briefly, by scoring off a Tyler Vesel assist with 9:14 remaining after Gillies made an ill-advised pass along the boards.
“Vesel made a good pickup along the wall and found me in the slot, then I somehow beat the goalie,” Guentzel said. “I was thinking the momentum was turning our way. That’s been our team all year. If we get one, we’re going to keep coming and try to get two.”
UNO never got the chance.
Trevor Mingoia answered 24 seconds later, one-timing a Jankowski pass from behind the net past Massa to push the Providence lead back to two. Saracino added an empty-netter in the final minute to cap it.
Massa finished his stellar final collegiate year with 44 saves. It was the fourth time this season he made 40 or more saves in a game. UNO won the first three times it happened. It didn’t have enough on Thursday.
“I figured that, with such a young group this is all new territory for everyone, the nerves were going to be there,” Massa said. “I tried to steady the ship and keep the guys in it for as long as I could. They made a couple of good plays and found a way to get a couple of goals in the second period.”
Providence earned another shot at Hockey East champion Boston U. in the title game while ending UNO’s best postseason in its 18-year history one win short of Saturday’s championship.
The Mavs had never won an NCAA tournament game prior this season. Picked to finish sixth in their conference, they played their way into a top-10 national ranking, then, later, a first Frozen Four berth.
Losing in the semifinals wasn’t the ending UNO hoped for. But Blais said it didn’t spoil a great season.
“I’m proud of the team, obviously, and what we accomplished this year in our first trip to the Frozen Four,” he said. “(It) didn’t turn out like we hoped, but certainly proud of the guys and the way they never gave up. I thought when it went 2-1 we had a chance. They came down and scored the next shot.”
Providence (25-13-2) ...................................... 0 2 2—4
UNO (20-13-6) ................................................ 0 0 1—1
First period: None.
Second period: 1, PC, Noel Acciari (Nick Saracino, Brian Pinho), 11:02. 2, PC, Mark Jankowski (Saracino, Jake Walman), 14:58.
Third period: 3, UNO, Jake Guentzel (Tyler Vesel), 10:46. 4, PC, Trevor Mingoia (Janikowski, Ross Mauermann), 11:10. 5, PC, Saracino (Kevin Rooney, Anthony Florentino), 19:29 (empty net).
Shots on goal:
Providence ...................................... 16 17 15—48
UNO ................................................ 9 7 10—26
Power plays: PC 0-2, UNO 0-2.
Penalties-minutes: PC 2-4, UNO 2-4.
Goalies: PC, Jon Gillies (26 shots, 25 saves, 60:00). UNO, Ryan Massa (47 shots, 44 saves, 58:32).
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