ORONO, Maine — Coming into Friday night’s game two of its Hockey East quarterfinal series with Northeastern, Maine knew it would be facing a desperate team.
“They’re playing for their season,” said Black Bear co-captain Doug Janik. “We expected them to come with everything, so we knew that we’d have to come out with a lot of jump.”
Maine got all the jump it would need when forward Niko Dimitrakos scored twice in the first period en route to a three-goal, four-point performance to lead the Black Bears to a 6-3 victory and series sweep over the Huskies.
“Things have come a little slow because of injuries in the beginning of the season the last few years,” said Dimitrakos. “I can’t control that. Right now, I’m starting to feel 100 percent in my legs and feeling great out there.”
With the victory, Maine advances to the Hockey East semifinals, improves its overall mark to 19-10-7 and remains unbeaten in 21 Hockey East playoff games at Alfond Arena.
For the second consecutive night Northeastern, which finishes at 13-19-4 overall, outshot the Black Bears (27-22) only to come away empty-handed.
“It’s kind of a synopsis of our season,” said Husky head coach Bruce Crowder. “We work hard, a lot of opportunities, outshoot teams but we just haven’t been able to outscore them.”
Dimitrakos set the tone for the night with an outstanding individual effort two minutes into the opening period.
The UMaine junior collected the puck along the side boards in the offensive zone and took it high to the top of the right circle.
“I kind of got the top defensive man to stay with our point man,” said Dimitrakos. “I just did a little toe drag and spin and headed to the front.”
The spin move split two Northeastern defenders and as Dimitrakos headed into the slot, he held the puck until another Husky defender committed.
“I held the puck long enough to get the goalie out of position,” said Dimitrakos. “I had the short side open and hit it.”
Maine dominated the rest of the period, but Northeastern goalie Mike Gilhooly kept the Black Bears off the board, and it seemed that the Huskies would catch a break by heading to the locker room only one goal down. But a sequence in the final two minutes of the period would prove a turning point in the game.
With 2:02 left in the first, Husky forward Willie Levesque was sent off for hooking. Twenty seconds later Northeastern center Graig Mischler hit the post to the left of Maine goaltender Matt Yeats and stayed with the rebound. His next attempt deflected into the net off the skate of Chris Lynch. To the dismay of the Huskies, referee Jeff Bunyon immediately waved off the goal.
Northeastern hounded Maine for the remainder of the power play and seemed ready to head into the locker room trailing by one when Dimitrakos struck again.
This time, the Maine junior took a drop pass from teammate Martin Kariya (one goal, two assists) in the right circle and headed behind the Northeastern net and stuffed home a wraparound attempt with seven seconds remaining in the period for a 2-0 Maine lead.
“That goal was huge,” said Janik. “We’d been flying around and were only ahead by a goal. That gave us a big lift.”
“We were forced to play catchup from there,” conceded Crowder.
The Black Bears continued the blitz midway through the second when Matthias Trattning took a Michael Schutte feed and skated in alone on Gilhooly.
“It was a faceoff play,” said Trattnig. “Marty got it up to Shooter [Schutte]. I beat my center and he found me. I was going high all the way.” Trattnig pulled the puck to his backhand and beat Gilhooly above the glove and Maine had a three goal bulge.
John Peterman got Northeastern on the board five minutes later, blasting a slapshot from the right circle by Yeats (24 saves) with the Huskies enjoying the man advantage.
Chris Heisten answered for Maine less than a minute later, taking a Donny Richardson feed in the slot and beating Gilhooly (16 saves) high to the stick side, making the score 5-2.
A minute later Eric Ortlip pulled the Huskies within two again, skating hard to the net and beating Yeats to the short side with a backhander.
Dimitrakos completed the hat trick and put the game on ice by converting a give-and-go with Heisten on the power play at the 14:34 mark of the third period. It was Maine’s second shot of the period after enduring a frenetic Husky comeback attempt.
“That’s probably the best third period we’ve had all season,” said Crowder. “We just didn’t have the skill to finish tonight.”
Crowder pulled Gilhooly with two minutes remaining and Mike Josefowicz made things interesting by scoring with 59 seconds left, but Kariya wrapped things up with an empty-netter 42 seconds later.
The Black Bears are 5-0-1 in their last six, 9-1-1 since the beginning of February. Despite the hot streak, Maine head coach Shawn Walsh isn’t conceding anything.
“I don’t think this shores up an NCAA tournament bid,” said Walsh. “That’s too close to call and we don’t want to assume anything right now.”