ORONO, Maine — Maine completed its first sweep of a two-game series against a Hockey East opponent with a 5-3 decision over Massachusetts-Lowell Saturday night. The win clinched home ice in the Hockey East quarterfinals for the Black Bears.
Coming after a 2-0 shutout of the 10th-ranked River Hawks Friday night, the victory also marked the 14th-ranked Black Bears’ first sweep of any team since mid-October when it beat Niagara twice.
“It’s a very important step for us to prove we can play with the best in the league and go toe-to-toe with them,” said Maine head coach Tim Whitehead, who recorded his 101st victory with the win. “That was a very good team we beat.”
Senior captain John Ronan tallied a pair of goals on senior night. His second goal came on a shorthanded effort with one second remaining in the second period. It gave Maine the 3-2 lead, at which point, the Black Bears never looked back.
Elias Godoy highlighted the game for the River Hawks with two goals of his own.
In the Hockey East standings, Maine remains in fourth place and one point behind Boston University, which lost to Northeastern Saturday night. Lowell stays in fifth, only one point ahead of Northeastern.
The Black Bears improve to 18-10-6 overall and 13-5-4 in Hockey East with the triumph. The River Hawks fall to 19-9-4 and 10-9-3 in the conference.
Lowell snatched a 1-0 lead at the 9:40 mark of the first when center Jason Tejchma scored a shorthanded goal. With Maine on the power play, Black Bear defenseman Mike Lundin coughed up the puck near the Lowell blue line, giving Tejchma the lone-man breakaway. Tejchma shot the puck low on goalie Jimmy Howard, and it trickled through his five hole to give Lowell the game’s first advantage. The score was Tejchma’s second shorthanded effort of his career, the first coming two weeks ago against Providence.
Maine outshot Lowell 17-9 in the first.
Ronan tied the game with his ninth goal of the season 2:05 into the second period. From the faceoff circle, Jon Jankus flung a shot toward net that was deflected by Ronan and flew over River Hawk goalie Peter Vetri’s glove side to pull the teams even at 1-1.
“That was really an accident,” said Ronan. “Jankus threw the puck to the net, and I was just hoping to deflect it toward the goalie and get a rebound, but the thing trickled through. I’ll take it.”
Lowell answered only 48 seconds later with a power play goal to make it 2-1. Cleve Kinley scooted a pass out to the point where Godoy gobbled it up and threw a wrister past Howard’s glove. It was Lowell’s third power play goal in its last 15 chances.
Derek Damon provided the equalizer 5:15 into the second. On a pass from Mike Hamilton, Damon one-timed a snap shot from just above the hash marks and found the top corner of the goal.
With time running down in the second, Ronan added his second goal of the game, this time shorthanded, to give the Black Bears the 3-2 lead for the first time. Jankus stole the puck away from the Lowell attacker at the blue line and tapped it to Ronan who flicked it between Vetri’s glove and blocker pad with only one second remaining on the clock.
“I knew time was getting slim,” said Ronan. “But that was actually the first time I ever beat a guy wide. I was trying to get it around him, and to have it go in was just a bonus.”
“That was a big goal,” said Whitehead. “That took the wind out of Lowell’s sails and lifted up our team.”
The River Hawks agreed Ronan’s goal changed the nature of the game.
“Our shorthanded goal was a lot of hard work,” said Lowell head coach Blaise MacDonald, referring to Tejchma’s earlier score. “Their shorthanded goal was just a terrible, terrible turnover on our part.”
“That was definitely a huge turning point,” said Vetri. “We thought we had a lot of momentum going into the third period being on the power play, but before the time ran down, we gave up a horrible goal.”
In the final period, Maine continued to pour on the pressure and bombard Vetri with shots. On the power play, Brent Shepheard added an unassisted tally that skidded past Vetri’s stick 3:54 into the third. For Lowell, the goal was the first surrendered on the power play in five games. The River Hawks killed the previous 18 penalties it faced.
Maine increased its lead when Michel Leveille found the net 6:30 into the final period. Camped out in the high slot, Leveille corralled a pass from Moore and one-timed a slap shot to bring the score to 5-2.
With the man advantage, Godoy closed the gap, making it 5-3 on a long slapper just inside of blue line that beat Howard above his left shoulder. Godoy’s second goal of the game came at 7:58 point of the third.
Lowell skated with a one-man advantage for the last 4:27 of the game after MacDonald pulled Vetri from the net. The River Hawks outshot the Black Bears 13-8 in the period and had numerous chances on Howard in the remaining minutes but failed to capitalize.
“We battled right to the end when we pulled our goalie,” said MacDonald. “I even thought we put in a better effort tonight. But they were just able to define the game at the proper moments.”
On the game, Howard stopped 31 of 34 shots for Maine while Lowell’s Vetri also registered 31 saves on 36 attempts.
As a part of senior night, Maine’s five fourth-year players were honored prior to the game and were given a chance to speak to fans after the contest as well. During the tenure of the current senior class, the Black Bears have compiled a 101-39-21 record, earned three NCAA births and made two trips to the National Championship game.
Ronan said he and his senior teammates didn’t let the emotion get to them.
“We gave a hug to the family before the game and then just set aside the emotions after that,” he said.
“We don’t have any real superstars,” Ronan said about his senior class. “We’re just a bunch of blue-collar guys who go out and get the job done every night.”
Next weekend, the teams will wrap up regular season conference action as Lowell travels to Merrimack for a Thursday night matchup and faces Providence at home on Saturday. Maine will head to Boston College for a pair.
“We have two big games next week,” said Whitehead. “But we’re excited about the challenge. We’re clawing toward the NCAA tournament, and this win tonight was just one step along the way.”