From the same team that brought you the clinic on how not to start a Frozen Four came others on how to wrestle away control of a game in the second period and seal the deal in the third.
The Maine Black Bears, they of incredible strength and fortitude in this, a trying season on many fronts, are one win away from a national championship, delivered from a dominating final two periods in a 7-2 victory over New Hampshire in a national semifinal Thursday at the Xcel Energy Center.
Maine senior captain Peter Metcalf scored carbon-copy goals 2 minutes, 20 seconds apart in the second period to erase a one-goal Wildcats lead and put the Black Bears ahead for good.
Metcalf, winger Paul Falco and center Robert Liscak, celebrating his 24th birthday, all had three points on two goals and an assist, and Maine goaltender Mike Morrison made 23 saves to propel the Black Bears to the national championship game for the fourth time. They’re 2-1 in title games, having won in 1993 and 1999 and lost in 1995.
Yet all this came after a horrendous start for the Black Bears (26-10-7). New Hampshire (30-7-3) scored just 21 seconds into the game after an ill-advised Maine diagonal pass in its defensive zone and got a power play just three seconds later.
Somehow, though, it’s not surprising that Maine could find the power to get past that kind of setback. It’s what the Black Bears have had to do all season.
Longtime coach Shawn Walsh lost his battle with cancer in September, just before they were set to open this season. Just 3-3-1 through the first month of the season, they had to rally just to get to the NCAA tournament, then had to summon up the strength for two wins at the East Regional just to get to this point.
In the second and third periods Thursday, though, it was simply a dismantling of a Hockey East rival.
Metcalf scored a pair of second-period goals from the left point, giving Maine a 3-2 lead after two periods.
The defenseman’s two goals, at 3:37 and 5:57 of the second period, were copies of each other. Neither appeared to be altered by any traffic in front of the net. UNH goaltender Michael Ayers looked like he had a chance to make both saves, but the puck got past him on both occasions.
Falco scored Maine’s sixth and seventh goals of the game, part of a four-goal third period that included goals by Liscak and Lucas Lawson.
New Hampshire’s 2-1 lead after one period was courtesy of its top line. Sean Collins scored the early goal; linemate Steve Saviano added a shorthander late in the period after Liscak evened the game for the Black Bears.
Darren Haydar, New Hampshire’s Hobey Baker Memorial Award finalist, was held pointless by a tight-checking Maine defense.
Collins took advantage of a bad Maine defensive mistake 21 seconds into the game, when he intercepted a pass from the right corner into open space and fired at Morrison’s net. Before the puck got there, it deflected off Maine defenseman Cliff Loya’s stick and flipped over Morrison’s left shoulder.
Maine defenseman Prestin Ryan took a high-sticking penalty just three seconds later, further adding to the Black Bears’ early woes.
They were able to kill that and another UNH power play later in the period, and got even 3:34 into the first period. Liscak backhanded a shot at the net, and it may have hit traffic in front and deflected past Ayers.
The Black Bears appeared to have taken a 2-1 lead at 6:23 of the first period, when Gray Shaneberger followed up on a rebound off a stopped breakaway attempt. The second chance got by Ayers and went into the net, but video replay showed the puck went under the side of the net, lifted up off the moorings when Ayers slid back into it.
Saviano staked the Wildcats to another lead with 2:05 left in the first period. Teammate David Busch’s shorthanded shot from the right side deflected off Morrison’s right pads and to Saviano in the crease for the rebound.