LOWELL, Mass. — Starting out win just one win in its first 10 games, you have to believe that some pucks haven’t bounced Maine’s way thus far.
So it seems fitting that on the night when Maine breaks out of a seven-game losing skid that one very perfect bounce earned the Black Bears the win.
With the score tied at three midway through third period, Maine defenseman Mike Cornell threaded a perfect puck towards the stick blade of fourth-line winger Kyle Williams that bounced off the rookie’s stick and into the net.
Despite a late flurry of shots – all of which Maine netminder Martin Ouellette stopped – the Black Bears held on for a hard-fought 4-3 victory over No. 17 Massachusetts-Lowell in front of 4,262 at the Tsongas Center on Saturday night.
The win, the first in league play this season for Maine (2-9-0, 1-5-0 Hockey East) earns a weekend series split with the River Hawks.
“That game could’ve gone either way and we know that,” said Maine coach Tim Whitehead, whose team fell behind 1-0, scored three straight goals to take a 3-1 lead, but gave up two goals late in the second to force the third-period deadlock. “We feel fortunate [with the bounce], but maybe it was time for that.”
The two main storylines for the Black Bears were the play of Ouellette, who made 27 saves, including 13 in the third period, and balanced scoring. The Black Bears had scored just 11 goals in 10 games, the lowest at the 10-game mark in program history, but received goals from all four lines on Saturday.
The only negative for Maine came with 1.8 seconds remaining in regulation when during a scrum in front of Ouellette, defenseman Brice O’Connor cross-checked Lowell’s Scott Wilson in the throat. He received a five-minute major and a game disqualification that will force him to miss the next game.
“That puts a damper on it, but he deserved the penalty,” said Whitehead. “I haven’t watched the tape, but my gut feeling is that we would have sat him anyway [regardless of the automatic suspension]. There’s just no place for that in the game.”
A wild opening period featured three goals and a combined six power plays so not surprisingly, each goal came on special teams.
Lowell opened the scoring on its first power play of the game as a Joseph Pendenza centering pass banked off the skate of Derek Arnold and into the net at 10:09.
Just 44 seconds later, another Maine penalty sent Lowell back on the power play, but this time it was Maine that struck, scoring shorthanded a second before the penalty expired. Sophomore Connor Leen outraced Lowell’s Zack Kamrass to a loose puck and immediately blasted it over the shoulder of Lowell netminder Doug Carr (18 saves) to knot the game at 1-all.
Later in the frame, Lowell penalties 13 seconds apart gave the Black Bears an extended two-man advantage. Despite a Maine penalty a minute later that reduced the advantage to four-on-three, the Black Bears extended the lead as senior Adam Shemansky fired home a rebound as the power play expired.
The River Hawks got their own crack at a five-on-three power play late in the period, but couldn’t convert. Rookie Ryan McGrath had the best opportunity, one-timing a cross-seam pass that Ouellette stopped with a nifty right-to-left move.
Maine came out gangbusters in the second and pinned Lowell defensively for the opening minutes. At 8:42, that pressure led to a goal as Devin Shore popped home a second rebound in the slot to extend the Black Bears’ lead to 3-1.
Though the River Hawks looked to be in a world of hurt, two Maine turnovers led to tallies that knotted the game.
Riley Wetmore picked off a Cornell pass at the blue line, walked through the slot and roofed his second goal of the weekend and the season at 11:41. Then with 29.1 seconds left, Pendenza finished off a two-on-none with A.J. White after Ben Hutton turned over the puck in the neutral zone, sending the game to the third tied at three.
Coming out on the short end, Lowell drops to 2-4-1 overall and 1-3-1 in Hockey East. Coach Norm Bazin said he would’ve like to have come away with more than a split on the weekend, but also feels his team is walking a fine line right now between winning and losing.
“Capitalizing is the name of the game right now,” said Bazin. “Both teams were at a point where they’re not executing the way they want and when they do, it’s the difference in the game.”