PROVIDENCE — Thanks to some much needed production out of last season’s team co-MVPs, Providence College is on its first winning streak of the season.
Jon Rheault scored a pair of goals, breaking a personal drought that had lasted almost two months, and goalie Tyler Sims sparkled between the pipes, making 28 saves, as the Friars frustrated No. 4 Maine, 3-0, at Schneider Arena.
Rheault’s shorthanded tally with 1:07 left in the second period held up as the game winner, and he notched his second of the night when he fired a rebound into an empty net with 1:11 to play give Providence back-to-back wins for the first time this season. Sims allowed less than two goals in a game for the first time in his last 12 starts to record his fifth victory of the year.
“Those are your older guys that you rely on to drive your engine,” Providence head coach Tim Army said. “It’s critical that all of those guys contribute. When you look at it specifically with Tyler and Jon as our co-MVPs last year they’re guys that you’re relying on.”
Providence extended the Black Bears’ losing streak to three straight thanks to a solid efforts by the likes of Sims and Rheault, who each earned a share of the Friars’ Lou Lamoriello MVP award last season. Mirroring their team’s fortunes, both have struggled for much of this season.
Rheault’s two goals on Friday brought him to a total of six on the season, down from his team-leading 16 a year ago, and Sims recorded his first shutout of the season and the fourth of his career almost one year to the day from his 4-0 blanking of Maine on Jan. 20, 2006.
Sims carried a 2.83 goals against average into Friday’s game, up from his 2.24 mark in conference play during the 2005-06 regular season. Both players were having trouble regaining their confidence, but Rheault and Sims each looked in peak form on Friday.
“The past few weeks, or even longer than a few weeks now, I’ve been waking up with nightmares about not scoring,” Rheault said. “I’ve been gripping the stick tight even in practice I’ve been getting frustrated. It was just an unbelievable weight off my shoulders.”
“I’ve played good games here and there, but I haven’t really put together a string of games,” Sims said. “That’s what we need down the stretch and, obviously, my team played really well tonight. That helped out big time.”
The Friars carried momentum with them into Friday’s game after snapping their seven-game losing streak with a 3-2 overtime win at UMass-Lowell on Saturday. Providence hadn’t experienced that winning feeling since Nov. 24, 2006 (a 4-2 victory over the River Hawks), but several trends carried over against Maine. Most important among them was that the Friars took the lead and improved to 4-1-1 on the season when they score the game’s opening goal.
“I think that’s a big thing for our team,” Sims said. “I think in the past we’ve been getting behind, and that’s been partly my fault, but tonight we shut the door in the first period and that gave us a chance to really get our rhythm.”
“We were able to get a lead,” Army said. “We held it tight for a long stretch, and then we were able to get the lead. Same thing at Lowell we played from in front, and it’s really a different game when you’re playing from in front.”
Rheault’s shorthanded breakaway put Providence in front to stay late in the middle period, as he blocked Bret Tyler’s shot from the right point and chased down the loose puck in the Black Bears’ zone. Rheault sped in on Maine goalie Ben Bishop and slipped the puck between the long legs of the 6-foot-7 goalie, and Cody Wild’s insurance goal with 6:07 remaining in the third took the starch out of Maine’s mild comeback attempt.
Sims did most of his best work in the opening two periods on Friday, extending the Black Bears’ scoreless streak to 123 minutes, 46 seconds. Maine went 0-for-5 on the power play and is now 0-for-12 in its last two games with the man advantage.
The Black Bears came to Providence on the heels of a weekend sweep by Boston University, losing Saturday’s game by a count of 3-0. Maine will be desperate on Saturday in the rematch to avoid dropping a fourth straight and falling further out of the fourth and final home-ice advantage slot in the Hockey East standings. The Friars will be trying to continue their slow climb from the outer edges of the playoff picture.
“We’ll enjoy it tonight, we’re going to think about the good things we did, and then we’re going to go out tomorrow and do the same thing,” Rheault said. “We can’t get too high on ourselves. I think it’s almost good that they lost. I know they’re going to want it, but we can use that against them.”