ORONO, Maine — For now, at least, Maine seems to have broken its Saturday night hex.
Michel Leveille scored a goal and had two assists and Jimmy Howard made 17 saves to lead the Black Bears to a 4-2 win over Providence in front of a sellout crowd at Alfond Arena Saturday.
The game was the team’s ninth sellout of the season, and the win, combined with a Boston University tie with Massachusetts, gave the Black Bears a stranglehold on the No. 2 spot in the Hockey East standings.
“I thought the whole weekend was a solid weekend for us,” Maine coach Tim Whitehead said. “We talked bout how we wanted to play down the stretch, that we wanted to be at the top of our game, and I think we’re getting there.”
Maine entered the third period with a slim 1-0 lead, but quickly extended that lead when Todd Jackson scooped up a rebound on an odd-angle shot by Colin Shields from the left corner and stuffed it past Providence netminder Bobby Goepfert.
The Friars cut the lead in half at 10:50 of the final frame on a rebound in front while Prestin Ryan served a minor penalty for high sticking.
Maine regained its two-goal edge at 12:53 on a beautiful tape-to-tape pass from Leveille to Jon Jankus.
Leveille took a pass at the right circle from Derek Damon with the Black Bears a man up. Leveille saw Jankus at the left post and floated a saucer pass across the slot to the forward, who slammed it home.
“Damon and I were talking to each other,” Leveille said. “We moved a bit up the boards, and he got it to me. Earlier, between periods, Jankus was telling me that they were leaving him wide open. I looked this time, and he was all alone, so I got it to him.”
“Our power play hasn’t been exactly where we want it to be,” Whitehead said, “but they are starting to score the big goals, which is something they weren’t doing before. We’ll continue to work on that.”
Greg Moore scored an empty-net goal with 1:48 remaining to all but secure the victory. Jonathan Goodwin of Providence did stuff another shot past Howard at 18:34 to again cut the lead to two, but that was as close as the Friars would get.
The first period was devoid of much action, save for the two power plays for each side.
The Friars had the best opportunity when two Black Bears were called for penalties less than a minute apart, giving Providence a 5-on-3 for 1:24. The Friars, however, managed just two shots on one solid scoring chance, and Howard was equal to the task.
“It feels great to finally get another win,” said Howard. “The guys all stuck to the game plan, and everyone played well in front of me.”
With less than four minutes to go, Maine had it best shot when Michel Leveille laced a pass from the right half-boards just inside the Providence blue line to Derek Damon, who was slicing through the center of the slot. Damon’s tip was headed to the lower left corner, but Goepfert flashed his right pad just in time and smothered the rebound.
Leveille did connect on his next opportunity, though.
Just 35 seconds into the second frame, Leveille took a home-run pass from Ryan at the Providence blue line. The puck bounced through the Maine forward’s legs as he crossed the blue line, and never really settled down. Leveille was able to get enough on it as he bore down on Goepfert to poke it through the netminder’s legs for the only goal of the second period.
“I kept trying to settle the puck,” Leveille said. “I couldn’t, though, so I decided to shoot. He gave me just a little in the five hole, so I got it there.”
Both teams traded opportunities as the period wore on, with Maine again outshooting the Friars 10-6. As the period wound to a close, Providence thought it had scored the equalizer when a Peter Zingoni chance hopped over Howard’s stick and started to cross the line. Maine defender Steve Mullin swung wildly at the puck as it danced on the line and popped up in the air.
Howard recovered and snagged it with his glove, and the officials called the play dead. Television replays showed that the puck, while in midair, appeared to cross the line, but there is no replay in Hockey East during the regular season.