GRAND FORKS, N.D. — The Maine Black Bears made sure they didn’t beat themselves again Saturday night.
Down 3-2 after a trio of power-play goals, Maine (1-2-1, 1-1-0 Hockey East) clamped down and scored a late power-play goal of its own to salvage a 3-3 tie with the North Dakota (2-1-1) at Ralph Engelstad Arena.
More than 11,000 fans watched a back-and-forth battle between two nationally-ranked teams end without a winner, but both teams were able to take some positives out of a very entertaining series finale.
“I thought we played with a lot of guts,” said Maine captain Brian Flynn, who finished with a goal and an assist.
North Dakota defenseman Nick Mattson, also with a goal and an assist, saw the bright side as well.
“It’s still bittersweet right now, but I’m sure as time goes on we’ll take away the positives,” Mattson said.
As Andrew MacWilliam headed to the box for an interference minor 11:25 into the third period, Maine’s power play unit provided the equalizer. Ryan Hegarty tipped a point shot from Flynn and the puck slipped between the legs of North Dakota goaltender Aaron Dell (25 saves) for the tying goal at 12:18.
“”They were pretty aggressive on their penalty kill so we wanted to just move the puck quickly and get the puck to the net as soon as possible,” said Flynn. “Obviously, we win that game if we don’t take those penalties in the second period. Discipline is going to be a big issue. We’re going to have to figure that out if we want to go anywhere this year.”
Maine pecked away at the North Dakota defense, using an early goal in each of the first two periods to build a 2-0 lead. Flynn scored an early power-play goal from the left circle to make it 1-0 and Will O’Neill connected on a crisp one-timer from the right circle to add to the Black Bears’ lead.
But like last night, Maine took the wind out of their own sails by taking untimely penalties. Kyle Beattie and Mark Nemec were both whistled for penalties at 3:32 of the middle period and the Sioux knew they needed to capitalize.
“That’s almost like a must – we have to score there,” said Sioux forward Danny Kristo. “We looked at each other on the bench and said, ‘It’s time to sack up, let’s go here.’”
Mattson’s first career goal at 4:15 opened it up, and then a penalty to Hegarty allowed Mattson to set Kristo up for a hard slap shot from the point for another 5-on-3 goal to tie it at 5:27.
“It was huge for us to really take advantage of our power plays,” said Mattson. “(Kristo) actually came up to me right before that goal and told me to run that play, to put it right in his wheelhouse. Obviously, when you’re playing with a player of that caliber, you just give him the puck and let him make plays.”
UND would take a 3-2 lead thanks to another Kristo hard point shot on another power play. Kristo’s first attempt hit the left post, but the Sioux were able to cycle back and give him another chance, which he buried.
“Every shift, he’s around the puck,” said North Dakota coach Dave Hakstol. “He’s playing both ends of the rink (and) I think that’s critical. He’s been a real catalyst for us.”
Just like in Friday’s 3-1 loss, Maine’s penalties at inopportune moments changed the game.
Maine outshot North Dakota, 2-1, in the extra stanza and had the small edge in the overall shot total, 28-27.
Dan Sullivan played in his second game of the season, finishing with 24 saves for the Black Bears.
North Dakota heads into their conference schedule next weekend against Wisconsin, while Maine has an off week before resuming their Hockey East schedule against Providence.