PROVIDENCE — Josh Soares prevented Maine from making some rather dubious history on Saturday. Ben Bishop took over from there, making the Black Bears’ long ride home a little more tolerable.
Soares snapped a goalless drought that stretched nearly three full hours with his second-period score, and Bishop played brilliantly in goal for the second straight night as No. 4 Maine denied Providence a Hockey East weekend sweep with a 2-0 win at Schneider Arena.
The Black Bears snapped their three-game losing streak and avoided being shut out for their third consecutive game, which would have been a rather embarrassing first in program history. Soares netted his 14th goal of the season 15:27 into the second period, putting Maine on the board for the first time in 159:13, and Bishop made 40 saves to earn his second shutout of the year and run his total to 81 stops in the two-game series.
Bishop’s performance overshadowed a second straight strong game by Providence goalie Tyler Sims (28 saves) and brought an end to the Friars’ two-game winning streak.
“I really did sense a different focus from them,” Maine head coach Tim Whitehead said.
“They knew that we needed this game desperately and they played that way. It wasn’t our best game of the year, but it certainly was a very focused effort and a very determined effort.”
“I’m not disappointed,” Providence head coach Tim Army said. “I would have liked to have won both, but I am pleased with the way that we’re playing. We head into three really tough road games right now (at No. 2 New Hampshire Jan. 27, at No. 14 Vermont Feb. 2-3), but if we continue to play the way that we’re playing we’re going to hold our own.”
Providence was gunning for its first home sweep of the Black Bears since the 1997-98 season, and the Friars had their chances in the early going to take a lead and shake Maine’s confidence even further. Bishop made five saves to almost single-handedly kill off a 5-on-3 Providence advantage for 1:26 of the opening period and held the fort while the Friars dominated for the first 14 minutes of the game and most of the third period.
“I was able to see most of the pucks, so that was a big plus, and I’m usually able to stop the ones that I see,” Bishop said. “The defense did a great job of clearing the second shots. When you have that combination you’re going to be successful.”
“I thought we had good puck movement on our 5-on-3, and we had some good chances, but you need to cash in on a 5-on-3 when you’re playing anybody,” Army said. “You’ve got to score on a 5-on-3. It’s a huge advantage and, unfortunately, we didn’t come up with it.”
Maine’s breakthrough came late in the second period, as Providence committed a turnover in its own left-wing corner and Keith Johnson pounced on the loose puck. He fed Soares in the left circle for a quick one-timer that left Sims with no chance, and the spirited group of Black Bears fans that made their way south finally had something to celebrate. Billy Ryan was able to stuff in a shot from the left side less than two minutes later to give Maine all the cushion it needed.
“We really wanted to score the first goal tonight and, obviously, the 5-on-3 for such a long period of time was a challenge,” Whitehead said. “The three guys that were out there did a nice job and, obviously, Bishop was the most important guy. He didn’t panic and slide around and I thought he protected the net very well.”
“I still thought we did a lot of good things,” Army said. “We skated well and generated chances. We just couldn’t capitalize tonight when we had the chance.”