ORONO, Maine — The University of Maine men’s hockey team won seven Hockey East games all of last season.
The Black Bears have already reached six league victories this season after Saturday night’s second straight 3-1 triumph over Providence College at the Alfond Arena.
Maine overcame a brilliant goaltending performance from sophomore Alex Beaudry, who made 33 saves including a career-high 20 during a first-period onslaught, to improve to 6-4-1 in Hockey East and 8-7-1 overall. He made 17 Grade-A (high-percentage) saves, all in the first two periods.
Maine extended its unbeaten streak to five games (4-0-1) and its winning skein to four games while going over the .500 mark for the first time since Jan. 18.
Providence is 7-7-1, 2-5-1, respectively, after losing its third in a row.
Maine sophomore left wing Spencer Abbott broke a 1-1 tie 4:39 into the second period, and sophomore right winger Gustav Nyquist added an empty-net power-play goal with 29 seconds remaining to extend his scoring streak to six games (6 goals, 5 assists).
Black Bear goalie Scott Darling preserved the win with 13 third-period saves after facing just 13 shots in the first two periods combined. He finished with 25 saves, including 12 Grade-A’s.
Darling and the Bears killed off two third-period penalties to cap a 12-for-13 weekend on the penalty kill.
The teams swapped power- play goals in the first period as Joey Diamond opened the scoring for Maine by jamming home the rebound of Will O’Neill’s one-timer from the left point before Eric Baier equalized 2:46 later by racing unattended to the far post and chipping a precise diagonal pass from Matt Germain into the short side.
Abbott’s game-winner came off a three-on-two.
Kyle Solomon fed it across from the right-wing side as Dave deKastrozza was in the middle and Abbott was on the left side.
“I think [Solomon] was trying to get it over to deKastrozza, but [the pass] was in too tight to him and it slid through him over to me. I think [Beaudry] thought it was going over to [deKastrozza], too, and he was kind of late getting over, so I had a wide-open net,” said Abbott, who snapped a six-game goal drought.
“It was like Nyquist’s second goal [Friday] night. [DeKastrozza] missed the pass and it went all the way across the ice. I couldn’t get there in time, and [Abbott] made a nice shot along the ice,” said Beaudry.
Nyquist clinched it when Brian Flynn blocked a pass near the left point and chipped it out to Nyquist, who carried it into the offensive zone before sweeping it into the vacated net.
“The guys played so well defensively, especially the forwards,” said Darling. “They were unbelievable on the penalty kill and in five-on-five situations. We always had a third man high [in the offensive zone]. We were also able to create transition opportunities at their blue line. On the penalty kill, [the forwards] were able to block the [shooting] lanes.”
The Bears also did an exceptional job limiting PC’s second-chance opportunities with their thorough netfront coverage.
Two of Darling’s best saves in the third period came off Andy Balysky and Ian O’Connor.
Balysky’s chance came midway through the period as he drove to the top of the crease and redirected Tim Schaller’s slap-pass toward the far corner only to have his shot kicked out by Darling.
“[Schaller] made it look like a shot, so I dropped down,” said Darling. “[Balysky’s] stick was moving and [Schaller’s] shot was going wide. Luckily, I got my right toe on it. He didn’t get much on it because one of our guys was on him.”
Five minutes later, O’Connor found himself open in the left circle and ripped a blast that Darling was able to absorb in his chest.
“Kyle MacKinnon chipped it over to me. I hit it hard, but Darling is so big [6-foot-5]. He takes up so much of the net,” said O’Connor, who also credited the Bears for doing a good job clearing rebounds all night.
“I took a quick glance to my left and saw that we had all of their guys covered so I was able to step out an extra foot and I didn’t give him anything to shoot at. He put it right on my logo [on his chest],” said Darling, who has now allowed just one goal in each of his last four starts.
PC coach Tim Army said Beaudry “played great, especially in the first period. He gave us a chance to stay in the game. We had opportunities to tie it in the third period, but again, we didn’t get it done on the power play.”