ORONO —- Senior Nights are supposed to be memorable, but Saturday’s was forgettable for the University of Maine’s five hockey seniors.
Knowing a win could earn them a top-four finish in Hockey East, a first-round bye and the right to host a quarterfinal series, the Black Bears simply didn’t get it done as Providence College received 35 saves from South Portland’s Jon Gillies and completed a weekend sweep with a 3-2 triumph.
Providence had snapped Maine’s eight-game home winning streak 4-2 on Friday night.
That means Maine, 15-13-4 overall and 9-8-3 in Hockey East, slipped to sixth place and will now face No. 11 Merrimack (8-21-3, 3-15-2) in a single-game playoff at 7 p.m. Saturday at Alfond Arena. Maine swept Merrimack 2-1 and 3-2 in Orono on Feb. 14-15.
Maine will go into the playoffs coming off its first three-game losing streak of the season.
If Maine wins, the Black Bears will visit Providence (19-9-6, 11-7-2) for a best-of-three quarterfinal series on March 14-16.
“This is certainly not what we wanted or what we expected. We’re definitely disappointed,” said Maine senior defenseman Brice O’Connor. “Now we have to put it behind us and move forward. We have to learn from our mistakes. Merrimack always shows up big when they play us.”
“Now we have to work that much harder to go places this season,” said senior left wing Mark Anthoine.
“We had a much better effort than we had on Friday night but we didn’t get it done. Their goalie played well and we didn’t get enough traffic in front or win enough battles,” said sophomore center and Devin Shore.
The Friars took a 2-1 lead after one period as goals by Shane Luke and Brandon Tanev sandwiched Ryan Lomberg’s goal. Tanev’s goal was shorthanded.
The Black Bears squandered a full two-minute, two-man advantage early in the second period and Anthony Florentino’s power-play goal at the 11:10 mark proved to be the game-winner as his screened wrist shot from the right point beat Maine goalie Martin Ouellette to the blocker side.
Ouellette was pulled in favor of Dan Sullivan.
Ouellette and Sullivan combined for 30 saves.
Steven Swavely pulled Maine within 3-2 with 16:21 left in the third period by one-timing a clever between-the-legs backhand pass from Shore but the Bears couldn’t get the equalizer despite 16 third-period shots.
Luke took full advantage of a blunder by Ouellette to give his Friars a 1-0 lead 1:49 into the game.
Ouellette rimmed the puck around the boards but the puck hit a stanchion and wound up on the stick of Luke, who alertly one-timed a wrist shot that beat Ouellette to the short side.
“That was a bad goal. I should have gotten to the front of the net sooner,” said Ouellette, who was behind the net.
Lomberg tied it at the 12:18 mark off a perfectly-executed faceoff play.
The draw went back to Eric Schurhamer at the right point and he rimmed the puck behind the net to Connor Leen, whose quick pass found Lomberg in the middle of the slot and he one-timed it over Gillies’ glove.
But the Friars answered.
Maine’s Jake Rutt turned the puck over at the left point which resulted in a two-on-one featuring Noel Acciari and Tanev.
Rutt dove and took down Acciari, earning a hooking penalty, but the puck pinballed across the low slot and Tanev flipped a 10-footer into the open short-side corner. Acciari had slid into Ouellette so the goalie was tangled up and couldn’t get across..
“There was a little scrum in front, the puck popped out and I was in the right place at the right time,” said Tanev.
At the 4:45 mark of the second period, Maine had a glorious opportunity to tie the game with the two-man advantage but the Bears missed the net on a couple of occasions, had a few shots blocked and saw Gillies make some good saves.
“We executed all of our plays. The passing was pretty crisp and the movement was good. We had a few good looks but the goalie made some nice saves and we didn’t get rebounds or they got their sticks on our shots,” said Shore.
“Our penalty-killing was a staple of our weekend. The guys were phenomenal on the five-on-three,” said Gillies, who made 17 Grade-A (high-percentage) saves among his 35. “They took away the back door lanes and forced them to shoot wide or make another pass. That was a turning point. Our power play hasn’t excelled lately but we scored some timely goals on it this weekend.”