PROVIDENCE, R.I. -- After being ousted in the Hockey East quarterfinals, making the NCAA Tournament was not close to a sure thing for Providence.
After getting some luck to fall their way, the Friars were able to crack the field and earned a dream placement at the NCAA East Regional downtown, in their home city.
"We have to thank Brown University for hosting because without them hosting this regional, I think that we probably wouldn't have been playing here," head coach Nate Leaman said. "We could have been playing at any other place. It's funny how your crosstown rival can be your best friend."
Best friends they were.
Twice the "visiting" team in Dunkin' Donuts Center, PC persevered and now heads to the Frozen Four for the first time since 1985 thanks to a 4-1 win over second-seeded Denver on Sunday night.
The score was definitely misleading as the game came down to the final moments and the ability to hit open nets in the final stages of the contest.
Just after he tied the game at 1-1 just prior to the eight-minute mark of the third, DU senior defenseman Joey LaLeggia allowed the Friars right back into the game as he was called for a major contact to the head penalty, and also received a game disqualification, for an open ice hit on PC junior Steven McParland at 10:37.
It was right then and there that the tides turned.
The Pioneers played a pretty even game, as evidenced by an even 24-24 shots on goal count, but junior defenseman Tom Parisi netted the winner at 14:59 before the Friars scored twice into an empty net in the final two-plus minutes to clinch the win.
"I think the momentum did change a little bit but even though Denver was on the PK," junior captain and regional Most Outstanding Player Noel Acciari said. "They kept coming and we just needed to keep our composure. We just kind of focused on what we needed to do and then execute."
The teams played to a scoreless first period in which the Pioneers posted a 8-5 shots on goal advantage, but neither side had any threatening scoring chances.
PC's defense had a solid frame, keeping the potent Denver attack outside the Grade-A areas at junior Jon Gillies' net front as he was able to easily stop all eight shots he saw.
"They're everything," Gillies said of the defense that helped him make 23 saves on the night and earn All-Tournament Team status at the regional. "Closing time and space and keeping them to the outside is kind of what we focus on and I think with the way they play, they help us do that."
It was much more of the same in the second as the speedy, puck-moving defense corps kept the scoring chances to a minimum. It was the Friars that cracked the scoreboard first, taking advantage of a fortunate bounce more than 34 minutes into the contest.
Acciari made a great play to switch to his backhand, off senior Shane Luke's assist, and tuck his 14th goal of the season between Denver freshman Tanner Jaillet's legs 14:22 into the second period.
"It helped get us going," Leaman said. "Our power play struggled at times this year and I thought our power play won us the game tonight. Another big point is that I knew (Gillies) had to be our best player and he was our best player. I told him that this morning, put a little pressure on him."
Despite being shorthanded with less than two minutes to play in the frame, PC had a great chance to double its lead as junior Brandon Tanev cracked the right post behind Jaillet.
PC entered the second intermission ahead 1-0, but DU senior defenseman Joey LaLeggia leveled the score with his 15th goal of the season 7:52 into the final frame. The Hobey Baker Award top-ten finalist cranked a shot from the high slot and the carom bounced into the crease, off Gillies' back and just over the goal line.
Parisi put PC ahead for good with just under a minute remaining on the major. Wide open at the point, the Commack, N.Y. native held to create an open lane, fired the puck through traffic and past Jaillet for his fourth goal of the season.
"It was just a great battle along the wall by (freshman) Brian Pinho in the corner," Parisi said, "and they just kind of gave me a lane to the net, so I just tried to take a step and put it through all the forwards in front screening."
A night after allowing three Miami goals in close to nine minutes with an extra attacker on, the Friars were able to ice the game with two goals into an open net to advance to the Frozen Four after cracking the regional final in back-to-back years for the first time in program history.
Tanev hit iron earlier in the game but scored at 18:28 just after Jaillet was pulled, while junior Kevin Rooney sent the Dunk into a frenzy and officially wipe away the bitter memories of last season's East Regional loss to Union with 52.5 seconds remaining.
"It was funny. We hit the first empty net and the guys were celebrating on the bench," Leaman said. "I was like 'No, no. There's a lot of game left here, boys. Remember last night.' Fortunately, we were able to do that."
His team was certainly able, and now they can celebrate like it's 1985.