ORONO, Maine — After one of the worst defeats at Alfond in recent history, Maine snagged a pivotal and decisive 5-2 victory on Saturday night against Providence.
Anchored by the inspired play of netminder Ben Bishop, who recorded 22 saves, the No.12 Black Bears (15-9-0, 8-7-0) snapped a three-game losing streak and denied the No. 13 Friars (14-8-2, 10-5-1) their first season sweep of Maine. With the hard fought win, the Black Bears were able to rebound from an embarrassing shutout defeat the previous night against the Friars. For Maine, the game represented not only a chance to avoid its second straight weekend sweep but a chance to recapture its season.
“We had a long meeting today,” said Maine forward Derek Damon. “We really had to reevaluate ourselves and look at each other in the mirror. There were a lot of things that were said about guys needing to look at each other in the mirror and come out with a better attitude tonight.”
Whatever was said apparently worked.
Looking rejuvenated and refocused, the Black Bears took the ice Saturday night a completely different team.
“This (game) was huge,” said Maine captain Greg Moore. “I was very happy with the work ethic the whole game. Last night we had the work ethic but we weren’t being poised with the puck, we were kind of just running around because we were desperate.”
In of the most emotional games at Alfond this season, the Black Bears jumped on the Friars from the start. Playing without key players Michel Leveille and Bret Tyler, Maine head coach Tim Whitehead shook up the lines and saw it pay it off.
“I think the best thing about tonight was how the guys pulled together with their backs to the wall and a couple key guys out,” said Whitehead. “I was proud of them.”
Not to mention the win had pretty heavy implications on the rest of the season. With Maine already ranked low in the Pair Wise rankings, a loss would have been disastrous.
Now, however, Whitehead and company are back in the thick of it as far as the Hockey East standings go.
“We have drawn even with Vermont, so that is good,” said Whitehead. “A couple good squads there are tied for fifth, but it’s a good example of how hard our league is and how hard it’s going to be for us to keep fighting our way up. But we are determined to do that.”
That determination was evident halfway through the opening period when Damon registered the first goal of the night. The tally, which came at 11:48, saw Damon sneak free of the Providence defense and tap in a loose puck right at netminder Tyler Sims’ feet. Josh Soares and Moore received assists on the score.
“It was nice to finally get the first goal,” said Bishop. “We have been having trouble a lot letting the first goal or a late goal in the first period, so we played strong the whole first and the whole second period. It was great to get the lead again.”
With both squads holding even for the remainder of the period, Maine knew the second period would be the difference.
“It was really important for us to come out in the second period,” said Moore. “Out of the last three or four games the second period has been tough for us. Obviously the entire team knew that was something we had to focus on.”
Continuing to draw several penalties on the Friars, Maine garnered another power-play goal from Josh Soares at 4:07 of the second.
“We had some great movement on that power play,” said Soares. “Greg had the shot and everybody went one way and the puck just ended up on my stick. It was an open net and I just put it in.”
Damon started the play by sending a shot in from the point that bounced off of the boards onto Moore’s stick.
“Obviously it helped that we drew a lot of penalties in the second period because we worked hard,” said Moore. “To be on the power play on the whole did help with momentum in the second.”
Providence captain Tony Zancanaro felt the penalties were the difference in the outcome.
“We just didn’t come disciplined,” said Zancanaro. “If we had discipline it would have been a different game. Most of them were good penalties and calls, but you just can’t give up nine penalties to any Hockey East teams.”
The eventual game winner came eight minutes later, when Travis Ramsey pilfered the net for the first time this year.
“It was actually my first goal here at the Alfond,” said Ramsey. “I haven’t been playing too well. I just closed my eyes and shot it.”
The laser, which beat Sims over his glove shoulder, saw Ramsey collect passes from Keith Johnson and Wes Clark.
The Black Bears weren’t done yet though. Only 48 seconds later at 12:48 Keenan Hopson popped in his own goal. On the goal, a fallen Sims could nothing but watch as Hopson squirted the puck through a traffic jam in front of the net. After the score, Billy Ryan who just recorded an assist rushed down to the student section and gave an emotional fist pump.
“I was just getting the fans pumped up and just showing them how much we appreciate them being here,” said Ryan. “After last night we didn’t expect it to be sold out right away and it was. That gave us a big boost from the first minute.”
Providence, however, had one last rally to stage.
Down 4-0, the Friars quickly scored two goals at 10:01 and 12:59 of the third period with an extra attacker on the ice. The goals came from Jon Rheault and Zancanaro, respectively.
“We got to do whatever we can in that situation,” said Zancanaro. “We got to come at them. You’re down 4-0 you have to do everything and throw everything at them.”
The gutsy move to pull the goalie (Sim’s replacement Stephen Ritter at the time) with more than 10 minutes left was a win-win situation according to Whitehead.
“I thought it was great,” said Whitehead. “They had nothing to lose at that point. They could only gain things. It helped them a bit and gave them momentum, but we stayed the course.”
With Providence pressing, Bishop slammed the door.
“I thought Ben Bishop did a nice job, he was aggressive but in control, and that’s the balance he has been looking for lately” said Whitehead. “It’s not easy as a goalie. The pressure is on you, especially as a young goalie like our two guys. I was very proud of Ben. He responded in a tough situation and he played at his best. He delivered.”
Moore tacked on an empty-net goal for Maine at 18:58.
With the loss, Providence now drops eight points behind Boston College for first place in the conference and into a three-way tie for third place.