MANCHESTER, N.H. — Casey Thrush scored twice and New Hampshire rallied to beat Denver 5-2 on Friday night in the NCAA Northeast Regional semifinals.
The Wildcats (20-11-7) will play Hockey East rival UMass-Lowell on Saturday for a spot in the Frozen Four in Pittsburgh. Top-seeded Lowell beat Wisconsin 6-1 in the first semifinal.
New Hampshire swept the three games against the River Hawks early in the season, but that was before UMass-Lowell started its roll toward the Hockey East regular-season and tournament titles.
"They've been playing the best hockey I've ever seen," said John Henrion, who had a goal and an assist for the Wildcats. "It's going to be a tough test for us, but I think when you've got come back and you know you're playing a big game to go to the Frozen Four, it speaks for itself."
Trevor van Riemsdyk and Dalton Speelman also scored for New Hampshire, which was outshot 19-14 in the first period then played stifling defense over the next 40 minutes.
"We came out a little sluggish, maybe a little nervous, which happens in these big games, but we had some great leadership in the (locker) room," said van Riemsdyk, the brother of former Wildcats and current Toronto star James van Riemsdyk. "I think we were ready to play coming out in the second.
Casey DeSmith finished with 31 saves for New Hampshire, including two during a 34-second 5-on-3 advantage in the third period as the Pioneers (20-14-5) tried to cut into the Wildcats' 4-2 lead.
DeSmith had been pulled against Denver after allowing three goals on eight shots before New Hampshire rallied to beat the Pioneers 6-4 on Nov. 24.
"He played great," New Hampshire coach Dick Umile said. "He's proven all year that he can battle back after a disappointing game, which he had back in Denver so I'm sure he was looking forward to playing against them."
Daniel Doremus and Quentin Shore scored for the Pioneers, who had only 14 shots in the final two periods.
"It's been a roller-coaster year for us – just kind of like this game was – where we play very well at times and at times we really struggle," Denver coach George Gwozdecky said.
New Hampshire tied it at 2 on van Riemsdyk's power-play goal 5:26 into the second period, then took the lead on Speelman' goal with 22 seconds left in the period.
It was a chippy game full of shoving and a some punching after the whistle, then got ugly early when Denver's Nick Shore received a game misconduct and was ejected 50 seconds into the third for a hit to the head on Kevin Goumas, who took several minutes before wearily making his way across the ice to the bench.
The Pioneers held the Wildcats to two shots during the long penalty, but New Hampshire added to its lead a few minutes after the power play ended when Henrion scored with 11:11 left to play.
Denver had an opening to get back in it when overlapping penalties put Denver on a 5-on-3 power play for 34 seconds. DeSmith got a piece of one shot with his glove then another with his stick and the Wildcats easily killed the remaining 1:26 of the second penalty.
Denver pulled goalie Juho Olkinuora with a few minutes still left and Thrush scored into the empty net with 2:20 left.
Umile said Goumas and Grayson Downing, who didn't play after taking a hard hit in the second period, were uncertain for Saturday night's lineup. Both would be evaluated in the morning.