ORONO, Maine — On senior weekend, with PairWise Rankings points and Hockey East placement on the line, No. 14 Maine toppled No. 10 Massachusetts-Lowell 2-0 in a goaltending showcase featuring Maine’s Jimmy Howard and UML’s John Yaros.
The win gives Maine the season series and improves its chances at home ice for the Hockey East playoffs come March.
“I wish I could have kept a couple more out,” said Yaros. “We got off to a shaky start, and I just know that I need to keep my team in the game with Jimmy Howard at the other end. I think we are going to come out with some fire tomorrow night and I think that we are going to show a different team tan we did tonight.”
Maine scored the game’s only two goals on timing and placement. Michel Leveille — best known for dishing the puck — made Maine’s play of the year to set up Brent Shepheard for an easy open netter with seconds remaining in the first period to start the scoring.
The game went back and forth until the end of the third period, when Maine tallied a key rebound goal by freshman forward Rob Bellamy for a 2-0 lead that the Black Bears held for the final score, gaining momentum heading into Game 2 of the weekend series Saturday night at the Alfond Arena.
“One of our biggest problems is when we do crash the net, and the rebound does come, we are in too close,” said Maine forward Bellamy. “We need to stay a bit higher to get those rebounds, and we need to keep doing that to be successful for the rest of the year. This was huge for us. This was a huge boost for us and it definitely propelled us for tomorrow.”
In the first period Maine came out flying, taking the River Hawks out of the game with physical play. Maine, which outshot UML 14-2 in the first period, played its game all period, earning three power plays in the process.
Lowell killed all three off, but conceded more and more momentum after each penalty. Maine used that to get what might have been the year’s most critical goal off the stick of Shepheard.
Maine defenseman Steve Mullin and Leveille moved a give-and-go as Leveille came away with the puck and broke to the net. Leveille beat the defensemen with the puck and then a move to the goal-side and looked as if he was going to shoot. He faked the backhand and made a spin-move pass that went between two Lowell players’ feet to find a streaking Shepheard for an easy putaway at 19:33 of the first period.
The bright spot for UMass-Lowell was Yaros, who came up with 13 saves, including shutting down Maine forward Keith Johnson on a 1-0 breakaway with a set of beautiful saves.
Yaros stood on his head again in the second, making another huge save on Johnson from inside the hash marks all alone, though Maine continued to control the play.
On a two-on-one break Yaros came up big again with an stacked-pad save on Bellamy on the back door, and with seven minutes remaining in the period UMass-Lowell tried to take over.
Elias Godoy had a few great opportunities including a brilliant chance from the bottom of the circle and only a great save by Howard preserved the 1-0 lead for Maine. The period ended with no scoring and Maine continued to lead in shots on goal, 22-15.
Howard needed to be on top of his game, stopping multiple close-range shots. Lowell started the third period with back-to-back power plays, forcing Maine to take penalties to keep Lowell off the scoreboard. Maine killed both penalties.
Yaros made a few big saves through traffic to keep Lowell within striking distance, and the teams battled back and forth until less than five minutes remaining, Maine got the icing on the cake.
Keenan Hopson picked up a loose puck off the boards and one-timed it on net. Bellamy crashed the net and stuffed the rebound home for a 2-0 lead at 16:29 of the third period. Maine held off the River Hawks for the remainder of the game.
The two teams face off Saturday night at the Alfond Arena as Maine looks for the weekend sweep.