ORONO, Maine — As Friday night’s game between Maine and Providence entered the final 10 minutes of the third period, a wave of disbelief began sweeping over the assembled throng at Alfond Arena.
Four minutes previous, Friar sniper Devin Rask had netted his 20th goal of the season, and second of the night, to give Providence an improbable 2-1 lead. This despite the fact that the Black Bears were outshooting the visitors by a 29-8 margin and had dominated the action all evening. For Maine, it’s a theme that’s all too familiar this season.
“We’ve got to stop putting ourselves in those positions,” said Black Bear co-captain A.J. Begg.
Maine wriggled out of this fine mess, getting the tying goal from their hottest player and the game winner from defenseman Peter Metcalf with just over a minute left en route to an emotional 4-2 victory.
The win improved Maine’s overall mark to 16-10-7, 11-7-5 in Hockey East. More importantly, it secured home ice for the quarterfinal round of the Hockey East playoffs. The Friars dropped to 19-9-5, 13-7-3.
“This is huge,” said Black Bear forward Kevin Clauson. “Now our goal is within reach.”
That goal is to make the NCAA tournament. Despite clinching the home-ice berth, Maine has bigger aspirations.
“Players don’t come here to go to the Hockey East tournament,” said Black Bear coach Shawn Walsh. “They come to go to the NCAA’s. We knew we’d need at least three and probably four points for an at-large bid, that’s within our reach.”
The Black Bears’ newest hired gun, Michael Schutte, kick-started the third period surge with his 11th goal of the season and his seventh in six games.
“Marty got the puck behind the net,” said Schutte. “It came right to me and I stepped around the far side and beat [Nolan] Schaefer between the pads.”
The score came at the 12:35 mark of the third period.
“That was a good goal,” said Providence coach Paul Pooley. “They were just working, working, working and they made it happen.”
“That got the crowd back into it,” said Rask. “You never want to let that happen up here.”
Revived, the Black Bears cranked up the pressure and, with 1:06 remaining, were rewarded for their efforts.
Maine’s Martin Kariya won a draw and the puck drifted back to the left point. Metcalf corraled the puck and looked through a maze of players at the Friar net.
“I saw Schutte and someone else at the net,” said Metcalf. “I was gonna pass it, but I figured, if I shot it, at least we’d get a rebound.”
Metcalf’s low shot found its way through Schaefer’s pads, giving Maine a 3-2 lead.
“It’s a shame,” said Pooley. “Nolan kept us in that game.”
Schaefer finished the night with 30 saves.
Kariya added an empty netter as time expired for Maine.
The Black Bears took a circuitous route to this victory. They jumped on the Friars from the opening faceoff, testing Schaefer early and often. The Friar sophomore was up to the task, turning away all 12 Maine attempts in the opening period.
Meanwhile, Providence wasn’t generating many opportunities en route to a four-shot first period. However, Rask demonstrated to the Alfond crowd just why he’s considered one of the best forwards in Hockey East.
Rask intercepted a Black Bear pass near the Maine blue line with his team shorthanded and skated off on a partial breakaway. Though he didn’t score, he drew a penalty on Francis Nault and on the ensuing power play, put the Friars on top.
“I was just floating around,” said Rask. “[Peter] Fregoe got me the puck and I think [Matt] Yeats was playing the pass. I just threw the shot on net.”
Rask’s shot glanced off Yeats’ pad and between his legs for a 1-0 Friar lead.
An outstanding effort by Kariya tied the game at 1 early in the second period. Kariya outraced a Friar defenseman to a loose puck along the right wing boards, stopped quickly and skated into the slot. His backhander beat Schaefer high to the glove side.
That set the stage for Rask’s third-period, unassisted tally.
“They made a mistake,” said Rask of the unclaimed drop pass by the Maine defense. “I picked it up, went in alone and he [Yeats] gave me a hole low.”
Rask buried the chance and silenced the Alfond crowd. But it was not to be.
“There’s no way to describe how frustrating this is,” said Rask.
“We’ve just got to try and forget it and come back tomorrow night.”
For the Black Bears, it was more of the same as they nailed down their fourth come-from-behind victory in a month.
“Knowing we can respond allows us to play our game,” said Clauson. “We don’t panic and that allows us the opportunity to get back into the game.”
The breakneck finish obscured a tremendous defensive effort by Maine, which outshot Providence 34-11.
“We played awfully well,” said Walsh. “You take a team in the top 10 in the country and hold them to 11 shots, you’re playing a smothering kind of game. It had the trimmings of an NCAA playoff game.”