The Providence College winger ran his personal tally to five goals against the Wildcats during his freshman season, including the game winner in the Friars' 3-2 victory over UNH on Friday night.
Saracino's screened bullet from the top of the left circle - his ninth of the campaign - beat Casey DeSmith 8:06 into the third period to give Providence a 1-0 lead in the best-of-3 Hockey East quarterfinal series. Game 2 will be today at 4 p.m. and the Wildcats will be attempting to stop a slide that has seen them win just two of their last 11 games.
"It was a tough one to take," UNH coach Dick Umile said. "I thought the team battled pretty hard."
Saracino and linemates Ross Mauermann and Shane Luke were a thorn in No. 7 UNH's side all night, accounting for all three of No. 17 Providence's goals. Luke racked up three assists after missing the previous six games with a lower body injury and joined Saracino in finishing plus-3.
"We missed him a lot," Saracino said. "We've been playing all year together, so it was good to get him back."
Saracino first made his mark against the Wildcats by scoring twice in a 6-5 Providence win at the Whittemore Center on Jan. 19, a victory that snapped the Friars' 17-game winless streak in their program's personal house of horrors. Included in that streak was the last time the two teams met in the playoffs, a dominant two-game UNH sweep by a combined 10-0 in the 2006-07 season.
"I thought Nick was the guy on our team that wanted the puck the most out there," PC coach Nate Leaman said. "Each time he was out there he did something with it."
The Wildcats drew into a 2-2 tie with 18 minutes to play on Austin Block's team-leading 16th of the season, setting up what looked to be a tense finish. The senior winger beat Providence goalie Jon Gillies from close range in a 4-on-4 situation and UNH carried the play from there, pinning the Friars in their end for most of the next six minutes until a turnover in the Wildcats' own left wing corner helped Saracino produce his game winner.
"We had great zone time and the puck just came out," Umile said. "We had possession and we lost it. The kid made a great shot."
Gillies made the difference over the first two periods and finished with 35 saves in his playoff debut. The 6-foot-5 freshman kept it scoreless with Providence being outshot, 15-4, in the first and stopped breakaway chances by Dan Correale and Block in the second. Correale was sent in alone after van Riemsdyk caught the Friars in a bad change and Block picked John Gilmour's pocket in front of the Providence student section for a shorthanded bid that was denied.
"The shots were a little lopsided, but I did have a lot of help," Gillies said. "Even the breaks we gave up, it was just first saves and the guys were there to clear the rebounds."
UNH (18-10-7) never led despite a 37-25 advantage in shots on goal, as Saracino's rocket under the crossbar and Gilmour's shot from the top of the left circle gave the Friars a 2-0 lead with 6:33 left in the second. The Wildcats halved the deficit just 23 seconds later when Grayson Downing netted his 14th of the season, a power-play goal that made it a one-goal game into the intermission. Block's equalizer gave UNH all the momentum until Saracino proved to be the Wildcats' nemesis yet again.