Nebraska-Omaha built a 2-0 first period lead and that, combined with stellar goaltending from senior Ryan Massa, who made 33 saves, was enough to carry the second-seeded Mavericks to their first NCAA Tournament victory with a 4-1 victory over third-seeded Harvard.
The Mavericks struck early when Grant Gallo, moved up from defense to forward for this game, jammed home a loose puck just 1:59 into the first period.
The key moment of the game came when Omaha received 1:36 of 5-on-3 power play to close out the final 1:30 of the first period. It appeared as though the Crimson would escape the period when Omaha's Avery Peterson took a last ditch shot from the perimeter that beat Harvard goalie Stephen Michalek with just 1.4 seconds remaining in the first period.
After taking a 2-0 lead into the locker room at the first intermission, Omaha was able to play more conservative and limit quality Harvard opportunities. But Harvard was finally able to cut into that lead when Hobey Baker finalist Jimmy Vesey caught a rebound on the left side of the net and buried it past a sprawling Ryan Massa on the power play early in the third period.
The Crimson would get no closer though thanks to some nice saves by Massa. Tyler Vesel would seal Omaha's first ever NCAA Tournament victory with an empty-net goal.
They'll face fourth-seed RIT in tomorrow's regional final at 7:37pm EST.
Shots on Goal: UNO: 13-8-6-29 HU: 10-6-17-34
Shot attempts: UNO: 24-12-9-45 HU: 24-18-25-69
Prime scoring area attempts: UNO: 13-4-3-20 HU: 11-6-12-29
What do the numbers tell us?
It was a very even first period, but UNO came out of the first period up 2-0, and that led the Mavericks to go into a bit of a shell to protect their lead. Harvard attempted a lot of shots, but couldn't get much in close against Massa.
-The extra week of rest really appears to have helped Nebraska-Omaha. They looked much fresher and faster than when I saw them late in the regular season. They overwhelmed Harvard a bit with their speed in the first period and that was the difference. The team that scores first in these single elimination games almost always win. Turn that into a 2-0 lead and it's near impossible to come back. The Mavericks sat on that lead and though Harvard pressured, it was just too hard to quality looks through to Ryan Massa.
-Nebraska-Omaha moved big freshman defenseman Grant Gallo to forward for this game. Gallo had played up front on some power plays for UNO this season where he was a big body in front of the net. That move paid off big time on his first shift when he used his size to give UNO an early lead.
-It was my first time seeing Harvard this season, but I was very impressed. I'm not breaking any new ground here, but I loved the way Jimmy Vesey played. He's my runner-up to Jack Eichel for the Hobey Baker and whoever is third is distant behind those two.
There's a big decision coming up for Vesey, who could potentially jump straight into the Nashville Predators line-up if he chose to go pro, but he may chose to finish out the school year at Harvard.
-Dominic Zombo looked like a guy who missed two months with mono. He played on the fourth line and saw few minutes, but just the presence of their captain seemed to make a difference.
-Same goes for Harvard defenseman Patrick McNally. It appeared his senior season was over due to injury, but he was able to give it a go tonight. He held his own, but did not appear to be at his best.
-Also returning to the line-up was Nebraska-Omaha starting goalie Ryan Massa after leaving UNO's first playoff game against St. Cloud State two weeks ago. He looked very sharp and confident in goal. If he continues to play like that through this tournament, UNO will be a force.
-I expect tomorrow's final to look a lot like the first game today, with RIT packing up in front of their own net and hoping to keep it low-scoring and catch a bounce at the end.
1:59 Grant Gallo from Avery Peterson and Ian Brady 1-0 UNO
Gallon charged hard to the net and dug out a loose puck in traffic that he muscled into the net.
19:58 Avery Peterson from Jake Randolph and Austin Ortega (5X3 power play) 2-0 UNO
With time winding down in the period, Peterson picked up the puck at the top of the left circle and fired a high wrist from the top of the left circle that deflected off the post on the near side and into the goal.
3:09 Jimmy Vesey from Desmond Bergin and Kyle Criscuolo 2-1 UNO
Bergin's shot from the right side was kicked out by the pad of Massa, but the rebound went to the left side of the net, where Vesey caught it and fired a wrist shot past a diving Massa for the goal.
19:24 Tyler Vesel from Jake Randolph and Joel Messner (empty net) 3-1 UNO
Vesel broke free with the puck at the UNO blue line and scored on the empty net from just inside the Harvard blue line.
19:56 Jake Guentzel unassisted (empty net) 4-1 UNO
Guentzel finished off the game by scoring on a long shot from his own end into the empty-net.