ORONO, Maine — The University of Maine will enter the last two games of the regular season with a one-point lead over UMass for the eighth and final playoff spot in Hockey East thanks to a Martin Ouellette save with three seconds left in overtime that preserved a 4-4 tie with Northeastern on Saturday night.
The teams swapped two goals apiece in the first and second period but nobody scored after the 5:44 mark of a wild second period in which four goals were scored in a span of 5:27 including the last three in 1:31.
Maine is now 10-17-7 overall and 6-12-7 in Hockey East while NU is 9-19-4 and 5-16-4 and has been eliminated from playoff contention.
UMass lost to New Hampshire 4-0 and fell one point behind Maine.
Maine, which went 2-9-6 at home, visits New Hampshire for a pair next weekend while UMass plays a home and home series with Merrimack.
Seventh-place Vermont leads Maine by two points thanks to its 5-2 win over Boston University.
Vermont, which hosts Boston College for two next weekend, and UMass own the tiebreaker against Maine.
“We’re going to keep fighting hard, “ said Maine coach Tim Whitehead. “We grabbed a valuable point. We kept pushing and I thought we’d get a winner in the third period or overtime but it didn’t happen. Now we move on to the New Hampshire series. We have a lot of work ahead of us.”
The Bears went on a power play with 20.1 seconds left in overtime but the puck skipped past Kyle Beattie at the point and the Huskies raced down the ice. NU coach Jim Madigan pulled goalie Bryan Mountain in favor of an extra attacker because the Huskies needed a win to remain in playoff contention. They wound up with a glittering chance when Vinny Saponari passed the puck out of the corner to a wide open Josh Manson directly in front of Ouellette.
“I thought [Manson] was going to pass it back door,” said Ouellette. “There was another [player] to my right. But [Manson] just shot it and I was able to get my body in front of it.”
“Thank God we’ve got [Ouellette] and he’s been playing as well as he has been. He bailed us out a bunch of times,” said Maine defenseman Mike Cornell, who scored Maine’s fourth goal and was one of seven seniors honored on Seniors Night.
All four first-period goals came on the power play.
Cody Ferriero opened the scoring for Northeastern before Ryan Lomberg and Adam Shemansky responded for Maine,.
But Colton Saucerman’s five-on-three goal drew Northeastern level with 12 seconds left in the period.
Northeastern retained a one-man advantage to start the second period and Saucerman struck again 17 seconds into the period.
Steven Swavely scored a flukey goal to tie it 3-3 on the power play and Cornell’s even-strength goal 59 seconds later gave Maine the lead.
But Steve Morra’s even-strength goal 32 seconds after Cornell’s goal capped the scoring.
Ferriero opened the scoring with a rising wrist shot from the left circle off a cross-ice pass from Saponari at the 8:12 mark.
Lomberg equalized 2:57 later by busting down the right wing after taking a short pass from senior right wing Joey Diamond and firing a quick wrister that snuck past Chris Rawlings at the near post.
Shemansky gave Maine the lead by tapping the puck into a half-empty net after Stu Higgins’ follow-up attempt off Ben Hutton’s saved wrister from the midpoint landed on his stick.
But Saucerman tied it with a screened 20-foot wrister past Ouellette’s glove.
Saucerman’s second goal came off the rebound of a Saponari point shot as he converted from the doorstep to Ouellette’s right.
Swavely tied it when he partially fanned on Diamond’s pass but the puck popped in the air and glanced into the net off the body of NU’s Braden Pimm.
Cornell sent Rawlings to the bench with his wrister from the right point.
“I took a step to the side to get my shot through and, fortunately, it had eyes for me,” said Cornell.
Bryan Mountain came on to replace Rawlings (13 saves on 17 shots) and he went on to stop all 34 shots he faced in a stellar performance.
Morra was in the right place at the right time for his equalizer.
Zak Stone’s centering pass from the left corner was deflected into the slot by the stick of Ouellette and Morra swept it home.
“There was a guy in front who was a lot more dangerous than [Morra]. I tried to get to my feet but (Morra) shot it right away and it went five-hole,” said Ouellette. “I should have stayed in the butterfly. That’s the one goal I’d like to have back.”
Ouellette made several terrific stops after that to ensure his team notched a point, including three rebound attempts by Adam Reid during a scramble while the Huskies were on the power play in the second period.
“I recaptured my focus,” said Ouellette.
Ouellette finished with 35 saves as Maine outshot NU 51-39.