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Vermont, Northeastern force Game 3s; Providence completes sweep of Maine

03.15.14 at 11:02 pm ET

LOWELL — Mario Puskarich buried a rebound 5:36 into overtime to give Vermont a 3-2 win over UMass-Lowell and force a Game 3 in their quarterfinal series. The win not only extended the Catamounts’ Hockey East season, but it also kept their NCAA tournament hopes alive, as they likely would have been on the wrong side of the bubble had they lost.

Vermont opened the scoring with 1:07 left in the first when Jonathan Turk threw a pass to the front that deflected off Lowell defenseman Jake Suter‘s skate and into the net. The River Hawks answered midway through the second when Joseph Pendenza scored on a rebound.

Brendan Bradley gave Vermont a 2-1 lead with a power-play goal 5:53 into the third, but Scott Wilson tied it back up on a breakaway goal less than two minutes later. Lowell outshot Vermont 6-3 in overtime, but Brody Hoffman (36 saves) came up with some key stops. Puskarich ended it when he followed up an H.T. Lenz slapper that led to a juicy rebound.

“It’s a good sign for this hockey club to keep coming back. However, that’s not a recipe for success,” said Lowell coach Norm Bazin. “We know we have to work on playing with a lead and not chasing the game.

“I thought tonight we were better than we were last night. We had plenty of chances to score. Hey, it’s hockey. It’s exciting. It’s a game of bounces at times. We’re looking forward to playing a Game 3.”

For Puskarich, the winning goal was a new highlight in a season full of them. The freshman from Florida leads Hockey East rookies — as well as his team — with 19 goals this season, and he is likely the frontrunner for the conference’s Rookie of the Year award.

“I think we saw things early in practices that told us he was very gifted offensively,” Vermont coach Kevin Sneddon said of Puskarich. “We’ve been very impressed with his attention to detail and learning the defensive side of the game to go along with his offense. He’s become a very complete player in a very short period of time.”

– Northeastern also staved off elimination in overtime, beating New Hampshire 5-4 on a Mike Szmatula goal 3:39 into the extra session. UNH led 4-2 late in the second, but Colton Saucerman cut it to 4-3 with 3:31 left in the period, and Kevin Roy tied it a couple minutes later with his second goal of the game. The game remained tied through the third. Grayson Downing had a goal and an assist for UNH.

– Providence became the first team to punch its ticket to TD Garden for next week’s semifinals, as the Friars beat Maine 4-2 to complete the series sweep. Nick Saracino scored twice and Jon Gillies stopped 36 of the 38 shots he faced. Maine’s season is over, while Providence is almost certainly heading to NCAAs for the first time since 2001.

– Earlier in the day, Johnny Gaudreau put up four points as Boston College beat Notre Dame 4-2 to force a Game 3.

– As of 11 p.m., here is how Hockey East looks in the Pairwise:

2. BC
7. Lowell
8. Notre Dame
9. Providence
11. Vermont
12. Northeastern
20. UNH
23. Maine

BC is locked into a one-seed. Lowell, Notre Dame and Providence are all virtual locks to make NCAAs. A win over Lowell on Sunday would just about clinch a spot for Vermont, while a loss would put the Catamounts square on the bubble and have them scoreboard watching next weekend.

Northeastern most likely needs to beat UNH on Sunday. If the Huskies lose, they would still have a chance, but it would probably be less than 50 percent. UNH definitely needs to beat Northeastern on Sunday to have a chance, and it would most likely need to win its semifinal game as well. Maine has no chance.

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