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Mitch's Sports Report: UVM One Win Away From The Big Dance; Bruins Bailed Out By Stempniak In OT

The University of Vermont mens' basketball team is one win away from winning the America East championship and gaining an automatic bid to the NCAA big dance.

The Catamounts are playing their best basketball of the year at just the right time, winners now of seven in a row including last night's 63-56 victory over New Hampshire at Patrick Gymnasium. Ethan O'Day scored a team high nineteen points to lead the Cats, with Kurt Steidl and Ernie Duncan also reaching double digits with thirteen and eleven points respectively. UNH standout Tanner Leissner kept this one tight, scoring twenty-two of his game-high twenty-eight points in the second half, but the Cats were able to hold off every UNH comeback attempt to notch the win that sends third-seeded UVM to number one Stony Brook for the championship game Saturday. The opportunity is there for the Cats to reach the NCAA tournament for the first time since John Becker took over as head coach in 2012.

Also on Saturday the Middlebury Panthers womens' hockey team will host the first game of the Division three NCAA tournament, having won the NESCAC title in an overtime thriller against Amherst. The Panthers found out yesterday they'll get to drop the puck on home ice at Kenyon Arena against UMass-Boston, after UMass's upset win over Norwich in the NEHC title game.

Tough loss last night for the Lebanon girls' high school basketball team, stunned on a last-second buzzer beater by Sarah Doherty, a shot that gave seventh-seeded Goffstown a 37-35 upset win over the third-seeded Raiders in the Division II girls basketball semifinals in New Hampshire.

The Windsor High School bowling team defeated South Burlington in the championship round Saturday to win the Vermont state championship, the second state bowling title for the top-seeded Yellowjackets in the past three years. Sorry I didn't get to that yesterday, but I had some time to spare this morning. A little bowling humor, and yes I realize that's the comic equivalent of a gutter ball.

To the pros now, and in the NHL there's good news/bad news regarding the Boston Bruins game against the Panthers in Florida last night. Bad news first, of course, and that would be the Bruins letting a 4-1 lead evaporate as the Panthers tied the game at four with less than five minutes to go in the third period. The good news? The Bruins won 5-4 in overtime on a goal by Lee Stempniak, who's been terrific riding on the top line with Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand. So back to the good: Bergeron scored just thirty-four seconds into the game, converting a perfect saucer pass from Marchand with a nifty one-handed puck poke past Roberto Luongo. Bergeron later scored his twenty-eighth goal of the year, and with a breakaway tally by David Pastrnak and a goal by Brett Connolly, it was 4-1 Bruins after one in a game they needed to pass Florida for second place in the Atlantic division. But in the second period, the Bruins didn't just let up on the gas pedal, they put the mini-van on cruise control and climbed into the back to watch DVD's with the kids. Boston went a full ten minutes without a shot on goal in the second, and sure enough Florida got back in the game with goals by Jiri Hudler and Jossi Jokinen, and Hudler struck again late in the third to send the game to overtime. But in the extra frame Stempniak finished off a two-on-one with a feed from Ryan Spooner and potted his first goal as a Bruin, and give Don Sweeney some credit. He's had his critics since taking over as Bruins GM, yours truly among them, but Stempniak is proving to be more than just a decent rental pick-up. He's got five assists and a game-winning goal in his six games with the Bruins since being acquired from the New Jersey Devils.

The other big story in this game was an assist for age-is-just-a-number poster boy Jaromir Jagr, who moved past the legendary Gordie Howe into sole possession of third place on the NHL's all-time points list. And consider this: Jagr has moved into third place while missing two years during his prime playing years spent in the KHL--the Kontinental Hockey League--that plays most of its games in Russia. That's not quite Ted Williams missing a total of five years of Major League Baseball to serve in two wars, but it's remarkable nonetheless that Jagr could now trail only Mark Messier and some guy named Gretzky for most points while having two full seasons absent from that run.

Meanwhile, the Bruins get right back to work tonight facing off against the Tampa Bay Lightning, who lost to Pittsburgh last night, and so Boston can actually move into first place in the division if they can top Steven Stamkos and company and avenge a dispiriting 4-1 defeat to Tampa when the two played in Boston a couple of weeks back.

One night after being upset by the Lakers in Los Angeles, the Golden State Warriors returned to their more familiar winning ways, setting an NBA record with their forty-fifth consecutive home win in a victory over the Orlando Magic.