DURHAM, N.H — A loud shout could be heard from the University of Maine’s hockey locker room after the Black Bears had beaten New Hampshire 4-3 Friday night.
The exuberance resulted from Merrimack’s 4-3 overtime win over UMass that will send the Black Bears to the Hockey East quarterfinals as the eighth or seventh seed next weekend.
UMass and Northeastern will miss the playoffs.
A pair of seniors, defenseman Mike Cornell and center Kyle Beattie scored 19 seconds apart in the third period as the Black Bears snapped a nine-game losing streak at the Whittemore Center dating back to Feb, 4, 2005.
Maine improved its record to 11-17-7 overall, 7-12-7 in Hockey East, while UNH fell to 18-9-6 and 13-8-5..
Maine and UNH will play again Saturday at 4 p.m. in a regular-season finale.
Maine coach Tim Whitehead said he was “really proud” of the seniors and the entire team for the second-half surge that carried them out of the cellar into a playoff spot.
“It wasn’t easy,” said Whitehead whose Black Bears are 6-5-5 in their last 16 Hockey East games after a 1-7-2 start.
He said the goals by Cornell and Beattie were the turning points..
Beattie, who returned to the lineup last weekend after missing six games due to his third concussion of the season, had the second two-goal game of his career at the Whittemore Center.
“I’ve always liked playing here,” said Beattie. “If you can’t get fired up playing here, something is wrong with you.”
Beattie was also elated about making the playoffs after his season seemed in jeopardy when he absorbed a hit from Providence’s Tim Schaller on Feb., 1 that caused his third concussion.
“It feels great. I just wanted to help the team win,” said Beattie. “It doesn’t matter who scored the goals.”
Beattie said the team came to the Whittemore Center buoyed by the confidence it received when it swept Boston College (4-1, 3-1) on Jan 25-26, which ended a nine-game winless drought at Conte Forum. And the Bears had the same mentality.
“We played tight defense in our zone,” said Beattie.
Steven Swavely’s shorthanded goal in the first period and Beattie’s goal 9:18 into the third period staked Maine to a 2-0 lead.
Dalton Speelman cut the lead in half at the 13:24 mark of the third period when he deflected Eric Knodel’s point shot over the shoulder of Maine goalie Martin Ouellette.
But Cornell answered 23 seconds later as he beat UNH goalie Casey DeSmith with a screened wrister from the right point off a Devin Shore faceoff win.
“I just threw it on net and got some puck luck. I heard it ping [off the post],” said Cornell.
“I think I tipped it,” said Shore, who added that he didn’t care who got credit for the goal.
“[Making the playoffs] is awesome,” said Shore, who had two assists.
“Nine times out of 10, that tip-in hits the goalie or goes wide. But that’s hockey,” said UNH sophomore defenseman Trevor van Riemsdyk.
“Earlier this season, we might have panicked when they scored to make it 2-1 but we’re confident now,” said Beattie, who scored with a wraparound to make it 4-1 after he faked a shot and carried the puck around the net.
“You’re able to take the puck wide in this rink [because it is Olympic-sized, 100 by 200],” said Beattie. “After I beat their defenseman wide, I faked the shot and that locked [DeSmith) on the near post,”
UNH made things tense for the Black Bears as Knodel and Austin Block scored with the extra-attacker at the 18:47 and 19:37 marks but the Wildcats couldn’t get the equalizer.
Swavely’s goal was his fifth in the last nine games and was set up by Shore.
Shore broke down the ice in a one-on-three and cut to the right corner while protecting the puck.
He curled to the top of the faceoff circle and spied Swavely, who had just come off the bench on a line change.
Shore’s long diagonal pass hit Swavely in stride and the freshman center snapped a 25-foot wrister that beat DeSmith to the blocker-side inside the near post.
It was Maine’s sixth shorthanded goal of the season.
The Black Bears’ Ryan Lomberg had an opportunity to extend the lead when he chased down an indirect pass down the left wing and had time to wind up and fire a 30-foot slap shot from the left circle.
But DeSmith came out and gloved the knee-high blast.
Nick Sorkin had a good chance for UNH as he sliced across the crease but Ouellette slid across with him and made the save.
UNH carried the play in the first 10 minutes of the scoreless second period but Ouellette was sharp and came up with a gem off Maxim Gaudreault, as he flashed out his glove and snared the 12-foot wrister off the stick of the freshman left wing.
UNH had seven of the first nine shots in the period but Maine began controlling play and had the last nine shots of the period, requiring DeSmith to preserve the one-goal deficit.
Maine’s Will Merchant hit the far post with a wrister from the right circle and he had a 25-footer from the left circle on the same shift that DeSmith saved with his body.
DeSmith also came up with a good stop off Mark Anthoine, who was set up nicely in the low slot by Adam Shemansky, who passed it out to him from behind the net.
Beattie expanded the lead in the third period when he backhanded the puck past DeSmith after a power move by Jon Swavely, who took the puck to the net and got off a wrister.
Van Riemsdyk said the Wildcats “waited too long to play with urgency.”
Ouellette finished with 31 saves while DeSmith ended up with 20.