DURHAM, N.H. — The minutes dragged on as the officials carefully skimmed over the replay and tried to determine if Northeastern forward Mike McMurtry had deflected Mike Szmatula’s shot into the net with a high stick.
With 12:22 to play in the third period — and Northeastern’s season at stake — the potential game-tying goal was waved off, keeping New Hampshire’s one-goal lead intact.
Six minutes later, Brett Pesce scored the insurance marker, as UNH went on to beat Northeastern, 5-4, Sunday at the Whittemore Center and win their best-of-three Hockey East quarterfinal series, 2-1.
Wildcats goaltender Casey DeSmith made 22 saves in the win, while Northeastern’s Clay Witt stopped 21.
With the victory, UNH (21-17-1) faces Providence in next weekend’s Hockey East semifinals at TD Garden. It is the Wildcats’ first appearance in the semifinals since 2011.
Northeastern (19-14-4), which entered the series ranked 14th, is now on the outside looking in for a spot in the 16-team NCAA Tournament.
“Critical point in the game from my perspective,” NU coach Jim Madigan said of the waved-off goal. “First of all, I think we had the best official, in my mind, Tim Benedetto. The trajectory of the puck, there’s no way [McMurtry] could’ve touched it on the stick. He contended when he came back, it went off their guy.
“There was no way when I just saw the tape and you freeze-frame it, I don’t know how it was missed. It was a bad miss. At that point, we lost momentum trying to get back into it.”
With UNH leading, 4-3, Matt Willows and Pesce skated into the Northeastern zone on a 2-on-1. Willows launched a shot at Witt, who made the save, but it bounced to Pesce’s stick, and the defenseman scored to give the Wildcats a 5-3 lead.
The play capped a strong shift from Pesce, who skated the length of the ice to get in position for the odd-man rush.
“For him to be back there on defense, and be back in that situation on offense . . . he works very hard and he’s conditioned,” UNH coach Dick Umile said. “He’s another smart hockey player, to be in that position.”
However, Northeastern wasn’t ready to go home just yet.
With 3:50 left in the game, Szmatula scored his second goal of the game to pull the Huskies within one.
A day before, Szmatula scored in overtime to force the decisive Game 3.
“If this weekend’s performance doesn’t show he’s the best rookie in our league or best rookie nationally, I don’t know what more the kid can do,” Madigan said of Szmatula, who is just one of five freshmen in the country with at least 35 points (15-24-39).
Just 45 seconds later, UNH defender Eric Knodel scored, but his goal was also waved off.
The Wildcats, however, withstood Northeastern’s final attack to seal the win.
The teams entered the final period tied, 3-3.
UNH forward Kevin Goumas broke the stalemate at the 4:40 mark, scoring on the power play, to give the Wildcats a 4-3 lead.
The goal was his third of the game, giving the senior forward his second-career hat trick.
“I just tried to go out there and do the best I can,” Goumas said. “It was my last home game here as a senior, and I was just trying to do whatever it takes to help this team get to the Garden.”
For the second time in as many games, Northeastern erased a two-goal deficit in the second period.
The Huskies entered the period trailing, 3-1, but bounced back with goals from Szmatula and McMurtry.
Szmatula struck first at the 4:28 mark when he hammered home Braden Pimm’s rebound. Then, with just over five minutes to go in the period, Pimm’s shot from in front bounced off McMurtry and in to tie the game.
“I thought we competed hard, we worked hard,” Madigan said. “I was proud of the way they continued to show tremendous resolve.”
It was the second fortunate bounce for the Huskies. In the first period, with UNH ahead, 2-0, Torin Snydeman threw a shot on net from behind the goal line and it ricocheted off Wildcats defenseman Matias Cleland and in, cutting the lead to 2-1.
Toward the end of the first period, Goumas scored his second goal of the game when he deflected Pesce’s shot past Witt, giving the Wildcats a 3-1 lead. Goumas’s first strike came at the 5:12 mark of the first when he scored a shorthanded goal to give UNH a 2-0 edge.