AMHERST, Mass. — The Massachusetts Minutemen advanced to the Hockey East semifinals for the first time since 2004 and only the second time ever with a 5-2 victory over Maine. The win completed a sweep of the best-of-three-game series and set up a matchup at the TD Banknorth Garden against regular season champion New Hampshire.
In front of a crowd of 8,062, Jon Quick stopped 35-of-37 shots and was especially sharp in a third period in which he saw 15 shots.
“In playoff hockey, you start with the goalie and special teams,” captain Matt Anderson said. “Jon has been unbelievable in both of those areas. He’s our number one penalty-killer and he’s standing on his head in the goal.
“We feed off his energy as a team. There’s no feeling like that, knowing that you’ve got a superb goaltender back there.”
Chris Capraro led the UMass attack with a goal and two assists. Matt Burto added a goal and an assist. However, nine different Minutemen factored in the scoring.
“I think we’ve proven to ourselves what being a team is all about,” UMass coach Don “Toot” Cahoon said. “That’s been the basis of this group’s success.”
The win gave UMass, which is now 10th in the PairWise Rankings, its first 20-win season.
“Our guys did an unbelievable job of keeping it very much in the present to the point where we were just trying to win one period at a time,” Cahoon said. “I give them high marks for buying into that concept and really putting it into practice.”
For the Black Bears, the loss may have ended a season that began with seven wins and an 8-0-1 record. They finished the regular season, however, with only a.500 record since Jan. 1 to send them on the road for the quarterfinals for first time since 1998.
The loss dropped Maine to 16th in the raw PairWise, usually a sure death knell for the season, but a glimmer of hope remains since the Black Bears’ rise to 13th based on a bonus points factor of .003. As a result, the Black Bears are now at the mercy of other conference tournament results and the exact value of the NCAA’s mysterious bonus points.
“It’s an uneasy feeling,” Maine coach Tim Whitehead said. “The odds are against us getting into the tournament. We’ve got to get a lot of help from some of the teams we beat out West.
“We’ll wait and see and evaluate based on where we are in the PairWise and what teams are still around. We’ll see if there’s a possibility that we’ll be in. If we are, we’ll obviously prepare for that.”
Although the first period ended with Maine outshooting UMass, 13-5, the Minutemen had the better of the grade A chances and held a 2-1 lead.
Capraro opened the scoring at 8:21. Collecting the puck behind the net, he walked in front at the right post and backhanded the puck on goal. Maine goaltender Dave Wilson couldn’t control the puck and it slid over the line.
“It’s a key in any game to get the first goal,” Capraro said. “They’re a well-established program and we knew they weren’t going to go down without a fight.”
Seven minutes later, UMass seized a 2-0 lead off a Maine turnover behind the net. Capraro moved the puck to the left point, where Justin Braun found Cory Quirk uncovered in the slot. Quirk took Braun’s pass, turned and ripped a shot into the net for what looked like an early backbreaker.
As had happened the night before, however, the Minutemen then gave Maine’s nation-best power play an opportunity to get the Black Bears back into the game. Given the opening, the Maine man advantage unit did exactly that. Teddy Purcell shot from the point and through a Brent Shepheard screen and Quick never saw the puck.
“We established that we came to play in the first period,” Cahoon said. “We knew that they were going to push and we wanted to push back harder.”
UMass took over the game for good in the second period, scoring twice on a 16-9 shot differential. The first tally came on perfect tape-to-tape passing with Mike Kostka hitting Capraro at the right post and the senior then sliding it to Matt Burto in the slot. Burto ripped a shot past Wilson for his fifth goal of the year.
At 12:54, Anderson added an important insurance goal, converting a rebound in front.
Maine got to within two at 6:14 of the third period on a Billy Ryan goal on a screened shot. The Black Bear power play then got two chances to narrow the margin further, but Quick was at his sharpest. On the first penalty kill, he made a toe save on Shepheard and then stymied Ryan on the doorstep. On the second kill, he made big stops on Josh Soares and Purcell.
P.J. Fenton’s open-net goal ended all suspense at 18:41.