DURHAM, N.H. — After a lack-luster 4-1 loss for Maine at No. 11 New Hampshire on Friday night, Maine coach Tim Whitehead was looking for something more from his club in Saturday’s rematch.
He got that in the form of a 31-save shutout by rookie goaltender Scott Darling.
A short-handed tally at Chris Hahn 42 second into the second period was all the offense that Maine would need or get, as the Black Bears skated to a 1-0 victory over the Wildcats in front of a silenced 8,811 fans at UNH’s home away from home, Verizon Wireless Arena.
Darling, who for the last three games has sat on the bench after struggling for Maine since the beginning of the New Year, looked comfortable in net, kicking rebounds out of harm’s way and using his oversized frame to take away most of the net when the Wildcats got their best chances.
“I felt like my old self,” said Darling, who was forced to save his best for last in the third period, stopping 11 UNH shots. “I felt comfortable with every shot. I wasn’t afraid to get scored on.”
No save was bigger than one on New Hampshire defenseman Kevin Kapstad with 1:57 remaining. After Maine had killed off a UNH power play, their inability to clear the zone led to an odd-man advantage down low for the Wildcats. Greg Collins held the puck to draw the defense and shot a puck back to a pinching Kapstad, who attempted a shot glove side, only to have Darling flash the leather for his best save of the night.
“I just tried to step out and gap up the shooter,” said Darling. “We’ve been talking all week about my playing a little higher out [in the crease]. I just was able to get my glove on it.”
In addition to getting solid goaltending, Maine also stymied the UNH power play, which was scoreless in seven attempts. When you add in the fact that the Black Bears scored the game’s only goal short-handed, it further highlights the play of their penalty kill.
“Getting the short-handed goal put the exclamation point on the penalty kill,” said Whitehead. “We kept our poise on the PK. We got the puck out and it was an important part of the game.”
UNH, conversely, struggled offensively. Though running into a hot goaltender didn’t help, the Wildcats were unable to get many second shots on Darling. The fact that they’re without leading scorer James van Riemsdyk, who suffered a shoulder injury late in Friday’s contest and is listed as day-to-day, didn’t help.
“Loose pucks and rebounds; that was the key tonight,” said UNH coach Dick Umile. “We had the chances to put away the loose pucks. We just couldn’t get it done.”
In a scoreless first period, each team was whistled for three minors. The resulting power plays resulted in scoring chances, particularly for the Black Bears, but neither team could make good.
Maine had the most glaring chance at 3:58 when an offensive zone faceoff led to an immediate shot from the right point by Matt Duffy. After deflecting in front, the puck clanged off the left post. It bounced right to the stick of Maine’s Will O’Neil, but he was unable to settle the puck enough to jam it into the empty net.
A late-period penalty to Maine’s Jeff Dimmen carried over into the second. While UNH was hoping to cash in on the power play and break the scoreless tie, it was Maine that ended up potting a short-handed tally to take a 1-0 lead.
Chris Hahn blocked a shot high in the defensive zone and then was off to the races. He out-hustled New Hampshire blue-liner Blake Kessel, walked in alone and made a nifty move before sliding the puck five-hole on UNH netminder Kevin Foster (23 saves) just 42 seconds into the frame.
Both teams had ample scoring chances throughout the rest of the period, but neither could find the back of the net. Both Paul Thompson and Greg Collins had point blank chances for the Wildcats, but on each chance fired the puck into the chest of the 6-foot-5 Darling. Duffy walked in on a two-on-one for Maine and fired a shot high that rang off the crossbar.
UNH came out firing in the third, but Maine, and more importantly Darling, stood tall to the test. Any time that Darling wasn’t able to hang on to the puck, his defense was there to clear it out.
“I was real pleased to get out of here with two points,” said Whitehead. “Last night, UNH took it to us, but tonight we put ourselves into a position to win.”
The win allows the Black Bears (12-13-3, 7-10-2 Hockey East) to leapfrog Massachusetts into seventh place in Hockey East. Maine, though, is just five points behind fourth-place New Hampshire (13-9-4, 9-7-3 Hockey East) for the final home ice spot in the post-season.
For UNH, the loss is a missed opportunity to add some distance between itself and both Boston College and Mass.-Lowell for the final home ice spot. It’s two points that Umile feels could be costly.
“It’s a missed opportunity to win two points out there,” said Umile “Hopefully, it doesn’t come back to haunt us.”