BURLINGTON, Vt. — Vermont goaltender Joe Fallon stopped 23 shots, helping the Catamounts move a step closer to clinching their first home-ice playoff series since joining Hockey East with a 2-0 victory over Maine at Gutterson Fieldhouse Friday.
The shutout for Fallon is the second in as many games and the 19th of his career. He moved into sole possession of second all-time on the NCAA’s list for career shutouts passing Cornell goalie David McKees mark of 18. Fallon trails Michigan State great Ryan Miller by seven.
With the win, Vermont’s fifth straight, and first shutout of Maine since Dec. 1, 1979, the Catamounts (13-11-7, 12-7-5 Hockey East) are guaranteed to host a best-of-three playoff series if they beat Maine Saturday and there is a winner in the Boston College-Providence game at PC’s Schneider Arena.
The game hinged on a five-minute major penalty dealt to the Black Bears’ (10-18-3, 6-15-3) Rob Bellamy. Vermont tallied the two deciding goals in an 82-second span on the ensuing power play.
“It’s not often that one play can change a game, but it was the big turning point, though, I’d say in the game, the five-minute major,” said Maine coach Tim Whitehead. “Unfortunately, we were fighting an uphill battle from that point.”
“I thought both goaltenders proved tonight that they are two of the best in the league and certainly in the country,” said Vermont coach Kevin Sneddon. “I thought Joe Fallon was spectacular. I thought Ben Bishop made some great saves tonight.
“We were fortunate to solve Maines penalty kill and get a couple of power-play goals.”
The Catamounts outshot Maine 9-6 in the first, though the Black Bears did have the best chance of the period. Chris Hahn hit the post to the left of Fallon from the top of the slot with 6:45 left. Vermont defenseman Patrick Cullity pushed the carom underneath the goaltender to end the threat.
Fallon was also forced to make a nice rebound pad save at the post on Billy Ryan earlier in the period.
Just prior to the Catamounts’ first goal, Fallon made his best save of the night, with his pad, on a shorthanded breakaway by Keenan Hopson.
“That was huge,” said Sneddon. “I mean, because that gave us more energy and it could’ve been a real downer [to give up a short-handed goal in that spot].”
Brayden Irwin’s blast from the left circle beat Bishop (29 saves) five-hole at 13:41. Wahsontiio Stacey assisted on Irwin’s ninth of the season.
“It was a great play by Wahs to get the puck up the wall there, and the ‘D’ just gave me a little bit of room, so, I decided just to take a couple steps and shoot it,” explained Irwin.
Colin Vock made it 2-0, 1:22 later when the puck, blocked by a defender in front, came to the Plymouth, Mich. native. He roofed it over Bishop’s blocker for his sixth of the year, assisted by Dean Strong and Corey Carlson.
Wes Clark nearly got Maine back within one on a power play of its own shortly after. His shot from the point beat Fallon but clanked off the crossbar, late in the period.
Maine attempted 11 more shots than Vermont in the third, generating some quality chances, but Fallon was up to the task.
“I don’t normally mention accolades [to the team], but I think he became No. 2 all-time, so I mentioned it, and the guys were giving him a hard time in the locker room,” Sneddon said of Fallon.
The Catamounts were two-for-three on the power play, while the Black Bears were held scoreless in three opportunities.
Maine remains two points behind Massachusetts for the eighth and final playoff spot.