DURHAM, N.H. — With the mission of making the Hockey East quarterfinals accomplished on Friday night courtesy of its win over New Hampshire and Merrimack’s overtime victory over UMass, the University of Maine looked to build some momentum for the playoffs on Saturday afternoon against their archrivals.
The Black Bears did just that by erasing a pair of two-goal deficits to earn a 4-4 overtime tie with New Hampshire.
UNH junior defenseman Eric Knodel’s power-play goal with 3:38 remaining earned UNH a tie after Maine had taken its first lead of the game on goals 1:16 apart by Joey Diamond and Will Merchant.
Maine wound up 11-17-8 overall and 7-12-8 in Hockey East and is the eighth seed for next week’s Hockey East quarterfinal series. The Black Bears will travel to play first-time regular season champion UMass Lowell (22-10-2, 16-9-2) in a three-game series that begins Thursday night in Tsongas Arena. The second game will be played Friday and an if-necessary game would be played on Sunday.
“I liked the way we competed,” said Maine coach Tim Whitehead.”To grab three out of four points at UNH is always a good thing. It was a big step for us.”
Maine had lost the previous nine games at the Whittemore Center entering the weekend set dating back to Feb. 4, 2005.
Maine senior defenseman and tri-captain Mike Cornell said “we definitely exceeded a lot of people’s expectations, probably even our own to get three out of four points.”
UNH, which began the weekend one point out of first, ended up 18-9-7 and 13-8-6 and in a three-way tie for third with Boston University and Providence College. As a result of the tie-breakers, UNH is the fifth seed and will travel to Providence (15-12-7, 13-8-6) for a quarterfinal series.
Scott Pavelski’s first-period goal staked UNH to a 1-0 lead.
Pavelski was one of six UNH seniors honored before the game on Seniors Nights.
Linemate Maxim Gaudreault expanded the lead at the 14:06 mark of the second period and his goal triggered a wild flurry of four goals in a span of 3:57.
Maine’s Joey Diamond cut the lead in half 1:22 later but Grayson Downing responded 32 seconds after that to restore the two-goal bulge.
Adam Shemansky pulled the Black Bears within with 1:57 left in the period.
Diamond and Will Merchant scored at the 5:58 and 7:14 marks of the final period but Diamond was assessed a hitting-from-behind penalty with 4:18 remaining as a UNH player was standing on his stick and he tried to knock him off it so he could retrieve it.
“The ref didn’t see [the UNH player stepping on the stick],” said Diamond who was issued a 10-minute misconduct for chirping at the referee after Knodel scored with a screened drive from the midpoint over the glove of Maine goalie Martin Ouellette.
“I saw him take the shot but I didn’t see it after that,” said Ouellette.
“That [glove] side was open. Austin Block was [screening],” said Knodel.
Pavelski snapped a seven-game pointless streak by converting a well-executed three-on-two.
It was UNH’s first first-period goal at the Whittemore Center since a 5-2 win over Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute on Jan. 5, a span of seven games.
Justin Agosta made the breakout pass to Maxim Gaudreault and he carried the puck down the left wing before sliding a pinpoint pass to the far post where Pavelski directed it past a helpless Ouellette.
Gaudreault made it 2-0 by converting a Jay Camper rebound from the low slot.
Diamond notched his first goal by weaving cleverly across the slot from right to left before wristing the puck past Casey DeSmith from the inside edge of the left circle. DeSmith got a piece of the puck but it trickled across the goal line.
The Wildcats converted another rush when Downing got to the net front and tipped Austin Block’s shot from the right side past Ouellette.
But Shemansky scored by deflecting a Klas Leidermark shot past DeSmith.
Diamond tied it by jamming home his own rebound and Merchant made it 4-3 by deflecting a Brice O’Connor backhander from the high slot past DeSmith.
“I wanted to shoot it right away but their guy cut off my [shooting] angle. But he flinched enough so I was able to pull it to my backhand and get it to through to the net front and good things happened from there,” said O’Connor.
Agitated UNH coach Dick Umile called the tie “very disappointing.
“We had a pair of [two-goal] leads. But you’ve got to give Maine credit and their goalie came up with some saves,” said Umile.
Ouellette finished with 17 Grade-A (high-percentage) saves among his 31 while DeSmith wound up with 18 among his 32 stops.
“We didn’t let those two-goal deficits phase us. We were in situations like that a few times earlier this season. We kept battling back,” said Diamond.
“I think a lot people thought we wouldn’t get any points this weekend…that we’d get swept and it would be an easy weekend for them,” said Ouellette. “But we’ve been playing well lately. It didn’t surprise me it came out this way.”