ORONO, Maine — After Maine’s struggles early in the season to score goals and win close games, few thought that there would be any possibility of the Black Bears finishing second in Hockey East.
Apparently, someone forgot to tell the Black Bears.
Maine capped off its almost Cinderella-like run in the last month of the season with another stunning performance in a 5-2 victory over the Providence Friars in front of a capacity crowd on Senior Night at Alfond Arena.
“This is a credit to our team,” Maine head coach Shawn Walsh said. “After all the struggles we’ve been through all year, to play so well at the end of the year and get second place in the league is fantastic.”
Maine came out flying in the first period, but, like the night before, ended up with nothing to show for its efforts. Providence goalie Boyd Ballard made save after save to keep Maine off the board through the first 10 minutes of the period. After that, Providence found its stride.
Providence was able to get some sustained pressure after a power play and finally beat Matt Yeats. Adam Lee made a great centering feed to Mark Suderman on the doorstep. He was able to lift the puck over a sprawling Yeats to give the Friars a 1-0 lead heading into the locker room.
The Black Bears were buzzing around Ballard’s net at the beginning of the second and at 5:05, Robert Liscak put Maine on the board with a shot from the middle of the slot with assists from Doug Janik and Todd Jackson.
It was then that the game starting slipping away for Providence.
“We played very undisciplined in the second period,” said Providence coach Paul Pooley. “We took some unnecessary penalties and it cost us.”
Providence took three penalties in the period, while Maine took none. The Black Bears cashed in on two of the power-play opportunities.
“Those power-play goals really hurt us. You can’t afford to make mistakes like that against Maine. They’re a very good hockey team,” Pooley said.
The first power play goal happened because of a great individual effort by Niko Dimitrakos. He got the puck at center ice, broke down the right wing and skillfully moved around two Friar defensemen. He then fed a streaking Liscak, who poked it through Ballard’s legs to give Maine a lead it would not relinquish.
Lucas Lawson added the next goal at 18:13 on a rebound from the doorstep.
Walsh thought the second period was key. “We were able to get some power play goals and we controlled the play. That set us up well for the rest of the game.”
After that, Matt Yeats took over the game, making spectacular saves in the first half of the third period to keep Providence from cutting the lead, including one grade-A stop on J.J. Picinic.
Yeats made a save on a shot from the point and couldn’t find the rebound. He started falling to his back and Picinic tried to lift it over him, but Yeats stuck a glove in the air and stopped it.
“It was good tonight,” Yeats said. “I was able to make some nice saves and keep the team in the game. They had some good chances.”
Michael Schutte scored at 11:00 to effectively seal the game. Peter Fregoe tried to get Providence back in with a power-play goal at 15:41, but it wasn’t to be. Schutte added the empty-netter to end it.
Providence’s Devin Rask expressed some frustration that his team was feeling after the game. “We didn’t get any bounces tonight. We hit a crossbar, we took some penalties,” he said. “This is frustrating for our team because we had our chances this weekend. Now we’ve got to regroup and get ready for next week.”
Meanwhile, Maine’s A.J. Begg talked about how well his team has played. “We’ve really pulled together as a group. We’re getting the job done. We played another good game tonight and it feels really great.”
Maine is now 12-7-5 in Hockey East (17-10-7 overall), while Providence drops to 13-8-3 in Hockey East (19-10-5 overall). Both teams will host Hockey East quarterfinal-round series.