PROVIDENCE, R.I. — Hockey East’s season of surprises continued Saturday night, thanks to a stellar performance by Maine goalie Ben Bishop.
The 6-foot-7 junior made 41 saves to record his 50th career win in grand style, backstopping the Black Bears to a 4-0 upset of Providence College at Schneider Arena.
Wes Clark notched a goal and an assist to lead the offense and Bishop did the rest by notching his first shutout of the season and the fourth of his career, a superb effort highlighted by 21 first period saves.
The Black Bears (8-10-2, 4-7-2 Hockey East) pulled away with three third-period goals to put the game out of reach and denied the Friars (9-9-2, 6-5-2 HE) their first season sweep of Maine in program history.
“We had contributions from everybody,” Maine coach Tim Whitehead said. “One of the things I mentioned to the guys after the game is that, other than Bishop, it was tough to really single somebody out because the team played so well.”
Bishop was the unquestioned star on the night, helping to extend Maine’s dominance on the penalty kill and keeping the Black Bears even with Providence long enough for a charitable bounce or two to go Maine’s way. Matt Duffy’s rebound goal 6:59 into the second period was all that Bishop needed to provide his club with a critical two points in the league standings.
“He really played great tonight,” Duffy said. “It really showed and helped us out a lot in the defensive and forward positions.”
“That was a big team win,” Bishop said. “The guys deserved it.”
Maine had lost three of its last four entering Saturday’s game and was reeling due to a rash of injuries that forced defensemen Duffy and Brett Carriere to play right wing on the Black Bears’ first and third lines respectively. Clark, Duffy and left wing Vince Laise combined for three goals on Maine’s makeshift top unit and the Black Bears held Providence scoreless in four power play attempts, stretching their shorthanded success string to 32.
“Sometimes the teams that are the most dangerous are teams that have some injuries,” Providence coach Tim Army said. “They come in and they’re like a wounded animal; those teams are very difficult to play. You need to get the lead on them and we didn’t.”
Maine seemed to break Providence’s spirit with its opening goal, one that Friars’ goalie Tyler Sims almost certainly would like to have back. Clark’s innocent flip from the right circle forced Sims to make a routine blocker save, but the rebound caromed across the front of the empty cage and Duffy was well-positioned to backhand home the rebound for the eventual winner.
“Once they got the lead, their whole game changed,” Army said. “They were in a situation where they were up 1-0 and they could really do the things that they were trying to do, limit our ice, keep the puck 200 feet, and then you make another mistake and it’s 2-0.”
“When we score first, we’re 7-0 this year now,” Bishop said. “When we get the first goal, it really helps the team out and after we got that I had a feeling that that’s all we were going to need for the rest of the night.”
Bishop’s gut instincts were correct. Maine proceeded to spoil Providence’s flow through neutral ice, bottling up the Friars’ offensive-minded defensemen, and played a disciplined style in their own end of the ice. The Black Bears consistently won the battles for loose pucks in the corners and along the boards over the final 40 minutes.
“I think it was just a very determined effort,” Whitehead said. “We had a lot of guys out with injury, so we talked about keeping the game simple, especially from an offensive standpoint, and for the most part I thought we did that.”
“We tried to get as physical as possible,” Duffy said. “They have skilled defensemen, so we wanted to hit them as much as possible to try to make them make mistakes and transition the other way.”
The Black Bears broke the game open inside the opening seven minutes of the third period. Clark raced down the left wing on a two-on-one and snapped a shot over Sims’ glove at 4:52. Jeff Marshall made it 3-0 a mere 1:44 later when his shot from the left wing hit Sims on the left arm and trickled across the goal line. Laise added insult to injury for the Friars by scoring an empty-net goal from his own end of the building with 49.7 seconds remaining.
Providence’s run of good fortune came to a screeching halt with the defeat. The Friars barely held on to scratch out a 3-2 win over No. 10 Massachusetts Friday night and Providence is now just 3-3 in its last six games after a 5-1-1 run in its previous seven. The Friars missed a golden opportunity to move up in the league standings and complete a rare four-point weekend while facing a Maine team that is floundering uncharacteristically close to the Hockey East basement.
“That’s what’s plagued us a little bit,” Army said. “Every time we get a chance to really create a path for ourselves, we take a step back.”