ORONO, Maine — Maine junior center Robby Dee celebrated his return to the lineup with a goal and it proved to be the game-winner thanks to sophomore goalie Scott Darling.
Dee capped a comeback from a 2-0 deficit just 44 seconds into the third period and Darling made 28 saves, including 12 Grade-A (high-percentage) stops, as the Black Bears rallied past the University of New Hampshire 3-2 in a men’s hockey thriller at Alfond Arena Friday night.
Maine is now 13-9-3 overall, 10-6-2 in Hockey East, while league leader UNH fell to 13-9-4 and 12-4-3, respectively.
UNH had won the last five meetings at Alfond Arena.
Dee, who had missed four games due to a broken bone in his left foot, scored off a faceoff won by David deKastrozza.
“It’s called a walk-and-shoot,” explained Dee, who had scored three goals in the three games prior to his injury. “[deKastrozza] left it in a perfect spot for me. I didn’t have to dig it out of my skates. I just skated on to it and snapped it short side. I think the goalie [Brian Foster] might have been screened.”
UNH senior right wing and co-captain Bobby Butler, tied for fourth in the country in goals with 18, had a glorious opportunity to equalize shorthanded when Blake Kessel set him up perfectly on the doorstep at the far post.
But Darling extended his left leg and kicked it out.
“That should have gone in,” said Butler who credited Darling with making a superb save.
“It was kind of a slow-developing play so I was able to read it and get my toe on it,” said Darling.
UNH had several other chances to tie it, including a 32-second two-man advantage and the ensuing power play in the final two minutes, but Darling made some good stops and his teammates did a nice job blocking shots and getting their sticks and bodies in the shooting lanes.
“He made some huge saves for us. We’ve got to play better in front of him [Saturday night],” said Maine junior center and captain Tanner House.
The teams conclude their series at 7 tonight and tickets are still available.
“We played very well but we’ve got to find a way to bury our chances,” said Butler.
Mike Sislo’s shorthanded goal in the first period and an even-strength goal by Phil DeSimone in the second period staked the Wildcats to a 2-0 lead but House scored on the power play at the 11:55 mark of the middle period and Jeff Dimmen tied it with 21 seconds left.
Sislo’s second career shorthanded goal against the Black Bears represented the only scoring in the first period, which was dominated by Maine.
Maine had 12 Grade-A scoring chances to UNH’s three but the opportunistic Sislo capitalized on a three-on-one after UNH defenseman Kessel blocked a shot.
Sislo carried the puck down the ice and beat Darling with a wrister over the glove from the right faceoff circle.
“I should have made that save,” said Darling.
Foster was the story of the first period as he made six Grade-A saves among his 11.
DeSimone scored at the 4:15 mark of the second period with a nifty move.
DeSimone broke into the zone on a two-on-one with Kessel, he used Kessel as a decoy and snapped a wrister over Darling’s glove after toe-dragging the puck into prime shooting position in the left circle.
DeSimone had a golden opportunity to extend the lead off a precise diagonal pass from Butler but Darling scrambled across and snared DeSimone’s one-timer with the glove a few feet off the ice.
“I thought that was going in,” said DeSimone.
“It was weird. I usually give up back-door goals but I usually stop the shots that they scored on tonight,” said Darling who was pleased with the way he played “after the first period.”
House cut the lead in half when he was set up perfectly by Gustav Nyquist, who collected the puck behind the net on a Will O’Neill dump-in and fired it quickly to House.
The unattended House flipped it into the open short side.
“I knew where Tanner was going to be,” Nyquist said.
Darling came up with another gem to keep the Wildcats from building the lead to 3-1 when he stacked his pads on Bobby Butler’s breakaway.
“I read the play and I knew he was going to shoot,” Darling said.
“I tried to go five-hole, but I should have gone to my backhand. I made the wrong decision,” Butler said.
Dimmen tied it thanks to a lucky bounce.
The puck was rimmed around the boards but took a weird hop in front to Nyquist. He fired a wrister that Foster kicked out but the rebound landed right on the stick of Dimmen, who one-timed it home.
House said that goal proved to be a turning point.
“It was nice to go into the intermission tied,” said House.
Maine outshot UNH 34-30 and Foster was equally stellar.
The UNH goalie finished with 18 Grade-A saves among his 31.
Maine coach Tim Whitehead said UNH “probably deserved a better fate. They played very well.”
But he was pleased with the resiliency exhibited by his team.
Nyquist called it a “hard-fought win.
“We showed that we’re a strong team, coming back from two goals down,” said Nyquist.
DeSimone said Maine has improved noticeably from the last time they played, a 5-2 UNH win on Oct. 24.
“They played very well,” said DeSimone.