ORONO, Maine — A stellar 35-save goaltending performance Saturday night almost cost the University of Maine home ice for the Hockey East quarterfinals.. An equally superb 35-save goaltending exhibition gave them home ice.
While UMass junior Paul Dainton was frustrating the Black Bears to complete a weekend sweep, 4-3, the University of Vermont’s Rob Madore was backstopping a 1-1 overtime tie at UMass Lowell.
The result was that Maine, UMass Lowell and Boston University, a 4-3 winner over Northeastern, wound up tied for third in points with 28. BU went 4-2 against the other two, Maine was 3-3 and UMass Lowell was 2-4 so BU earned the third seed.
And since Maine went 2-1 against UMass Lowell, the 16-15-3 Black Bears (13-12-2 in the conference) claimed the fourth seed and will host fifth seed UMass Lowell (18-14-4, 12-11-4) in a best-of-three series on Friday, Saturday and, if necessary, Sunday. All games will start at 7.
In the other matchups, league regular season champ New Hampshire will entertain No. 8 Vermont; No. 7 UMass will visit second seed Boston College and No. 6 Merrimack will travel to play No. 3 and defending national champion Boston University.
“We had a much better effort tonight [than in Friday night’s 5-2 loss]. I was proud of how the guys competed,” said Maine coach Tim Whitehead. “I was disappointed with the result. But the guys left it all out on the ice. We ran into a hot goalie and couldn’t tie it up.”
Dainton made 13 Grade-A (high-percentage) saves as the Black Bears outshot his Minutemen 38-20 including a 28-8 margin over the final two periods.
Maine attempted 63 shots to UMass’ 35.
Senior defenseman and co-captain Justin Braun scored a pair of goals and senior center Brett Watson notched the game-winner for the Minutemen. Casey Wellman had the other goal for UMass, which had lost six straight and eight of nine entering the series and scored just 12 goals in the nine games.
Maine received goals from Jeff Dimmen, Gustav Nyquist and Brian Flynn and senior goalie David Wilson turned in a solid 13-save performance after replacing freshman Shawn Sirman, who allowed two goals on five shots.
“These are my first two wins up here,” said Braun, whose Minutemen were 0-6-1 in their seven visits to Alfond Arena prior to this weekend. “We came up with a lot of fire and we were happy to find the back of the net. We have been working hard for a while to find [the back of the net] but we couldn’t find it. This weekend we did.”
“Their goalie played really well and they scored goals at opportune times and we couldn’t just couldn’t cash in [on our chances],” said Dimmen.
UMass averaged 4.67 goals per game in three wins over Maine this season while averaging 2.4 goals per game against the other eight Hockey East schools.
“Apparently, we’ve got their number this year,” said Braun.
“We needed both wins here and we came and got them,” said Dainton, “We had the determination this weekend. We knew what we needed to do, the guys were prepared and we got the results we needed.”
Wellman staked UMass to a 1-0 lead 10:16 into the first period when Doug Kublin’s wrister from the point bounced off a stick over to him and he tucked the puck past Sirman.
Braun made it 2-0 on a four-on-four as he generated a burst of speed to go wide on a Maine defenseman and beat Sirman with a low shot between the pads from a difficult angle near the extended goal line.
“I saw a little daylight and it snuck in five-hole for me,” said Braun. “Nine times out of 10 that isn’t going in, maybe even more than that.”
Sirman was then replaced by Wilson as sophomore goalie Scott Darling, who has been the regular virtually all season, has been suspended indefinitely for violating team rules.
Dimmen answered with a nice individual effort as he busted between two defensemen and beat Dainton with a wrister through the five-hole. It was Dimmen’s 12th goal of the season and that is one shy of the school record for defensemen shared by Dwight Montgomery, Jack Capuano and Jeff Tory.
But Braun answered later in the first period on a five-on-three as he one-timed a blast from the top of the right circle past Wilson into the far corner off a Wellman feed.
Nyquist, the nation’s leading scorer, cut the lead to 3-2 2:13 into the second period as Maine’s power play, ranked number one in the nation, scored for the 12th straight game.
Nyquist accepted a Will O’Neill pass and beat Dainton with a screened wrister to the far corner.
Maine pressed for the equalizer but Dainton came up with a number of good saves to keep the Minutemen in front.
Watson made it 4-2 with 4:05 left in the middle period as he stretched as far as he could to gather in a Brian Keane pass and flipped a backhander into the top short-side corner.
“To be honest, there was a little bit of puck luck,” said Watson. “The pass was ahead of me and I knew I just had to get it on net. I didn’t get a lot on it but sometimes it’s just the placement of it and I was able to get it up over him.”
Maine tried to rally in the third period and had a two-man advantage for 1:40 but the Bears squandered the opportunity as Dainton made five saves and the Minutemen did an excellent job limiting the Bears to mostly perimeter shots.
“That was probably the turning point in the game,” said Nyquist. “We hit a crossbar, I missed kind of an open net and Dainton made three or four great saves.”
Maine pulled the goalie and inched within 4-3 on Brian Flynn’s power-play goal with 30 seconds left on a shot from the left circle.
“Give UMass credit. They came in and played a great game,” said Maine junior center and captain Tanner House. “Dainton was huge for them. They scored on their five-on-three and we didn’t score on ours.”