ORONO, Maine — The University of Massachusetts Minutemen kept their narrow Hockey East playoff hopes alive Friday night by stealing a pair of points from the University of Maine Black Bears with a 5-2 win at Alfond Arena.
After entering the weekend in the dreaded ninth spot in the conference (eight teams qualify for the playoffs), the Minutemen (17-16-0 overall, 12-14-0 in Hockey East) must remain at least tied with Vermont in the standings after Saturdays game to clinch a playoff berth, or win and hope for a Merrimack loss. Maine (16-4-3, 13-11-2) has already earned a playoff spot and needs one point to clinch home ice for the quarterfinals.
It just keeps us in the mix, UMass head coach Don Toot Cahoon said. Tomorrow, theyre going to be fighting for their lives all night, and were going to be fighting for our lives.
UMass defenseman Matt Irwin scored the first two goals of a three-goal second period rally to give the Minutemen a 4-1 lead heading into the final frame. Right wing Casey Wellman assisted on three goals.
It was a good effort, for sure, Cahoon said. It was what we needed.
Both Maine goals came on the power play, but were not enough to recover from the early four-goal deficit. UMass senior center and captain Brett Watson put the game away with an empty-net goal in the games final minute.
UMass outworked us, Maine coach Tim Whitehead said. We came out as individuals and got what we deserved.
The Minutemen scored on two of six power plays, while Maine went 2-for-5.
UMass goaltender Paul Dainton turned away 25 Maine shots, while improving to 14-13-0.
The Minutemen had scored just 12 goals in their previous nine games combined, but converted just 52 seconds into the opening period. Left wing T.J. Syner ended a 13-game goal slump when right wing Casey Wellmans wrister from the left faceoff circle rebounded onto his stick at the left post.
Just seconds after leaving the penalty box, Irwin camped in front of Maine goalie Shawn Sirman, and redirected defensive partner Justin Brauns wrister from the mid-point into the low, glove-side corner, 3:17 into the second period.
Irwins second goal came just past the midway point of the period, on UMass third power play. His wrist shot from the left faceoff circle found its way between Sirmans pads.
Braun capped the second period scoring with just over six minutes remaining. His slapshot from the right point beat Sirman at the near post. Sirman was then replaced by Dave Wilson.
Our defense as a whole played pretty well, Cahoon said.
Maine was finally able to get a goal to their credit on the power play less than a minute after Brauns goal. Left wing Spencer Abbott roofed a wrister from the left faceoff dot.
Maine defenseman Will ONeill scored on a slapshot from the mid-point with 10:34 left in the game.
Sirman exited with13 saves and four goals allowed, and fell to 1-6-0. He made his first home start, in place of regular starter Scott Darling. Wilson stopped six third period shots.
Weve got to come out tomorrow and turn things around, Maine center Robby Dee said.