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Seeing Red: UNH needs to break through vs. Cornell

DURHAM -- The University of New Hampshire hockey team hasn't scored a goal in two games. Cornell hasn't allowed one in three.

Advantage Big Red?

The way senior goalie Brian Foster sees it, his counterpart Ben Scrivens is due to crack. With a current shutout streak of 230 minutes, 30 seconds, the law of averages has to catch up with the Hobey Baker candidate sooner or later.

The Wildcats hope sooner.

"He has to get scored on sometime," Foster said. "The odds are that's coming up."

Third-seeded UNH and No. 2 Cornell meet tonight (5:30, ESPNU) in the first round of the NCAA tournament at the Times Union Center in Albany, N.Y. The winner will advance to the East Regional final Saturday night (5:30, ESPNU).

No. 1 Denver will take on No. 4 Rochester Tech in today's first game (2 p.m.).

Foster could use the offensive support. He had nothing to show for stopping 74 of 76 in his last two games, both 1-0 losses to Vermont in the quarterfinals of the Hockey East playoffs.

"He had a great weekend," said UNH coach Dick Umile. "It wasn't his fault. He did everything he could to give us an opportunity to win. We couldn't score."

Going into that best-of-three series, UNH hadn't been blanked all season and had scored at least two goals in 28 consecutive games.

Breaking out offensively won't be easy against the top-ranked defense in the country and a goalie that leads the nation in goals-against average (1.76), save percentage (.937), and shutouts (7).

"It would be nice to get that first goal," Umile said, "because it makes things different. When they get ahead they go into a defensive mode even more, especially when they're ahead after two periods. That's been their M.O. for a long time."

The Wildcats, who are ranked 11th nationally on offense, managed to beat him twice when the teams met Jan. 3 at the Whittemore Center, but they lost the game, 5-2.

Now it's one-and-done.

"They played real well," said junior forward Mike Sislo. "We were coming off a break and they had played a couple games. They're a big, strong team. We know what to expect now, this being the second time around, and we'll be well-prepared. It's an exciting time of year. We have a new life and we have to take advantage of it. There are no second chances now."

In the previous meeting Cornell scored three times in the third period to snap a 2-2 tie. The Big Red outshot UNH, 43-22, and proved difficult to contain on the cycle down low.

The Wildcats never led in that game, although they tied it up twice before faltering in the third.

"The first goal is always huge in any game," Foster said, "especially against a team like Cornell that's so good defensively."

The Wildcats (17-13-7), who have won only two of their last eight games (2-3-3), anticipate a physical, tight-checking game and will strategize accordingly.

"You've got to be committed to hard work and outwork them," Umile said. "It's not going to be a wide open game. You've got to be focused on getting to the net and playing hard defensively. And when you get a shot you've got to make sure you take it because you might not get another one."

"All four lines will be a huge factor this weekend," said junior forward Phil DeSimone. "The biggest thing is to get shots on net. They pack it in on defense and their goalie is pretty good. It's not going to be pretty. We know what kind of game it's going to be and we're prepared for that."

Cornell (21-8-4) is 5-0-1 in its last six games and has allowed only three goals during that stretch, none in the last three games.

"It's a typical Cornell team, " Umile said. "Tough to play against."

While UNH was getting bounced in the Hockey East quarters for the second year in a row, Cornell captured the ECAC playoff title after finishing second to Yale in the regular season.

The Wildcats, who haven't played a game since March 14, won the Hockey East regular-season championship for the third time in four years.

"We have to be ready," Foster said. "They're a really big team. We'll have to battle and play physical. They move the puck down low really well. We have to get the puck out and transition to offense."

The Wildcats wouldn't mind a repeat of last year when they elevated their play in the NCAA tournament.

They beat North Dakota in overtime and took eventual national champion Boston University to the final seconds of regulation before losing.

"The (seniors) last year did a good job leading us into the weekend," said senior co-captain Bobby Butler, "and I hope I've done the same. It's our last chance, and I hope the guys understand that. We've got to play every shift as if it's our last because it could be."

-- Copyright (c) 2010, Foster's Daily Democrat, Dover, N.H./Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.