PROVIDENCE, R.I. — So who have you beaten?
Providence answered that question with an exclamation point, riding a 3-0 first-period lead to a 5-3 win over Maine. The undefeated Friars, now 4-0-1, had entered the game ranked 15th in the nation, but had their doubters. Although they tied No. 10 Boston University last weekend, their wins had come against struggling teams.
While Maine hasn’t come out of the gate in its accustomed fashion, Providence may now be ready to make a stronger claim to a piece of the national stage, thanks in part to a Devin Rask hat trick and strong goaltending by Nolan Schaefer.
“We’ve got a long way to go,” said PC coach Paul Pooley, not ready for any “national stage” talk. “Defensively, we’ve got to improve. Offensively, we’re doing some good things, but we’ve got to play smarter hockey to be the club we want to be.”
A goal just 18 seconds into the third period had given Providence a seemingly comfortable 4-1 lead, but Maine’s Dan Kerluke scored a pivotal shorthanded goal at 5:45 to provide a sharp U-turn to the momentum.
“Maine is very tough to put away,” said Pooley. “You can’t give up a shorthanded goal with a 4-1 lead in your building in the third period. But we got away with it.”
Tom Reimann then added a power-play goal at 13:30 to make it 4-3 and cast some serious doubt on whether PC would indeed “get away with it.”
With the pace of play fast and furious, both sides had excellent chances until Rask roofed an empty-net goal over a sliding defender to complete his hat trick and ice the game.
“It’s nice to win a game [where] the momentum switched from us to them, to us and then to them again,” said Pooley.
Rask, who now has six goals on the season, deflected attention away from his hat trick after the game.
“My linemates are the reason I’m standing here right now [talking to the media],” he said. “Maybe they should be out here. They made the plays, did the extra work and I was just in the open and they got it to me. Fortunately, it went in the net.”
The loss drops the Black Bears to a 2-3-1 overall record and gives them their first loss in a Hockey East opener in 14 years.
“We certainly created enough chances to win the game,” said Maine coach Shawn Walsh. “But our defensive zone play was just atrocious…. There’s no excuse for poor defensive play.”
Maine also received a sub-par performance from goaltender Matt Yeats, who was lifted after giving up three goals in the first period.
“He struggled,” said Walsh. “You can’t give up three goals on nine shots and win too many games.”
In the first period, Providence staggered Maine by grabbing a 3-0 lead. The Black Bears had their chances, primarily on the power play, but the Friars capitalized on some poor Maine defense and goaltending.
The Friars grabbed the lead at 4:55 off a faceoff. Mike Lucci won the draw back to Regan Kelly at the point. The freshman fired and Doug Wright deflected it in for his first of the year.
Less than a minute later, Rask took a pass from Kelly, split the Maine defense at the blue line, broke in on Yeats and lifted a shot over the goaltender’s shoulder. While one of the defenders might have been excused based on just coming off the bench for a change, his partner had not adjusted and Yeats didn’t distinguish himself on the goal either.
In the next two minutes, two more Maine defensive mistakes could have put the game out of reach early. J.J. Picinic picked off a D-to-D pass just outside the blue line, but was caught by a converging Black Bear before getting a shot off. Soon after, Drew Omicioli slipped behind the Maine defense and just barely missed a breakaway pass at the far blue line.
With four minutes left in the period, the game’s first major momentum swing occurred. Martin Kariya carried the puck up the left wing, cut across into the middle and to the net, through the PC defense like the proverbial hot knife through butter. Schaefer got just enough of the shot, however.
Play transitioned to the other end and Rask put the puck past Yeats off a scramble in front for a 3-0 lead.
Mike Morrison replaced Yeats to begin the second. The key Black Bear as the period opened, however, was Matthias Trattnig. The senior assistant captain was everywhere. With a minute left on a man advantage that had carried over from the opening period, Trattnig fed Robert Liscak on the doorstep, forcing a nice Schaefer pad save. Within minutes, Trattnig got two more shots off from the slot, but neither hit pay dirt either.
Maine couldn’t get on the scoreboard until 14:07. On the power play, Liscak put the puck in front from the right corner. Lucas Lawson got a piece of it before Chris Heisten put it in the net, trickling in off Schaefer’s toe.
With the score 3-1, Providence had a golden opportunity to put a nail in the coffin as the period ended, getting almost a full two minutes of a four-on-three man advantage. Morrison came up big with a couple saves, however, to keep Maine in striking range.
The reprieve proved short-lived. Just 18 seconds into the third period, Matt Libby rang a shot off the post and, with Morrison down, Adam Lee put the rebound into the open net.
Facing a 4-1 deficit, Maine got a huge lift from Kerluke’s shorthanded goal. Kerluke and Heisten took off on a shorthanded two-on-one after a bad PC pass and pinch at the blue line and Kerluke put it away.
Reimann’s shot from the point through a screen on the power play made it 4-3, but the Black Bear rally proved too little, too late.
Providence hosts Brown on Saturday in the Mayor’s Cup while Maine travels to Northeastern.