PROVIDENCE, R.I. — In the past few years when Providence and Maine have met, playoff implications have been written all over the games. In the 2000 campaign, Providence came up to Maine for its last two regular-season games and a quarterfinal series. Last season, the two teams met in a race for the regular-season title in Orono during the last week of the season and eventually collided at the FleetCenter in the Hockey East semifinals.
Friday’s game, although not in the postseason just yet, had the feel of a playoff contest. Maine’s lone score, at 6:34 of the first period, proved to be the game-winner despite exciting, up-and-down action for 60 minutes of play.
“It’s good to be in low-scoring games like this down the stretch,” said Maine coach Tim Whitehead. “This game could have gone either way and to come out on top is really fortunate for us. I’ve been in a few playoff games against Providence and it definitely felt like one tonight. They always come to play and tomorrow night should be the same type of game.”
The first score of the game ended up being the last. An opportunistic Lucas Lawson was able to provide the game winning goal for Maine, picking up a misplayed puck by Shawn Weiman and using the Friar defenseman as a screen to beat netminder Nolan Schaefer high to the glove side.
“I wouldn’t have believed anyone if they told me that we were going to hold Maine to one goal and lose,” said Providence coach Paul Pooley. “It’s just hard to imagine that we’re not going to win the game if Maine only grabs one.”
“We had our chances tonight, right up until the very end and I felt that we wanted to win this game,” said Pooley. “We were just looking for that one goal to put us over the hump. If we get one in the third period, that game is ours.”
One of the best chances for Providence came after Maine captain Peter Metcalf was whistled for delaying the game. The senior defenseman intentionally knocked the net off its moorings during a Providence scoring chance.
“Quite honestly, I thought the referee had pointed to center ice [for a penalty shot],” said Pooley. “Timmy [Benedetto] said his interpretation of the play was that it wasn’t a really strong scoring chance. Reagan Kelly was coming down the slot with a chance to score and my interpretation of the play was that he’d put that one top-shelf.”
Instead, the Friars had to settle for a power play with just under four minutes remaining. Providence was able to control the puck in the Black Bear zone, but Maine goaltender Mike Morrison stood strong, stopping two good scoring chances.
His composure during the final minutes of play was representative of the entire game. Both netminders played impressively, combining to stop 50 of 51 shots on the evening.
“The goaltending was really solid tonight,” said Whitehead. “Morrison played composed, within himself, and didn’t allow a lot of rebounds.”
“I thought Morrison played solid when he needed to and Schaefer played well for us in the second and the third,” said Pooley. “Nolan’s play really helped to keep us going once we turned it on.”
The game was back and forth for much of the second and third periods with neither squad being able to gain a significant territorial advantage.
“It’s obviously a struggle right now with trying to find that goal for us,” said Pooley, whose team’s hopes of home ice might have been dashed after dropping three of its last four league decisions. “But you’ve got to give Maine credit tonight because they made us work for everything we got.”
“We just want to continue to play sound defensively,” said Whitehead. “Tomorrow’s game should be a lot like tonight’s with anyone being able to grab it.”
The Black Bears have won both meetings by one-goal margins and prepare to play another hard-fought game against the Friars. The two teams will collide in their final meeting of the regular season Saturday evening at Schneider Arena.