The University of Maine had a golden opportunity to snap a 3-3 tie when Providence’s Erik Foley picked up a five-minute major for checking from behind and a game misconduct with 6:14 left in the third period of Friday night’s first game in their best-of-three Hockey East quarterfinal series.
But the Black Bears picked up a too-many-men-on-the-ice penalty just 1:25 later and Josh Wilkins capitalized in the 4-on-4 with 3:10 remaining to give the Friars their 13th straight victory over the Black Bears 4-3 at Schneider Arena in Providence, Rhode Island.
Providence extended its unbeaten streak against the Black Bears to 17 games (16-0-1).
Providence (21-10-4) can finish off the 18-15-4 Black Bears on Saturday night at 7. A third game, if necessary, would be played Sunday at 7.
UMaine had gone 2-for-2 on the power play but the Friars, who had 11 seconds left on a power play when Foley was called for his hit on UMaine defenseman Mark Hamilton, killed off what proved to be a 2:49 man disadvantage instead of 4:49 as a result of UMaine’s costly two-minute bench minor.
Jacob Bryson set up Wilkins’ game-winner when he circled the net and flipped a wraparound that was saved by UMaine goalie Jeremy Swayman. But the rebound squirted out front and Wilkins poked it home.
The Black Bears jumped out to a 2-0 lead on first-period goals by sophomore center and Portsmouth, Rhode Island, native Tim Doherty.
Doherty’s second goal came on the power play.
But the Friars tied it up on goals just 41 seconds apart by Erik Foley and Bailey Conger.
Veli-Matti Tiuraniemi snapped the tie for UMaine on the power play with 7:17 left in the second period but Scott Conway answered on the power play with 1:25 remaining, PC’s fourth power-play opportunity of the period.
Doherty opened the scoring with a backhander off a Nolan Vesey feed and converted another Vesey pass on the power play.
Foley was set up by Wilkins and Vincent Desharnais for the Friars’ first goal and Conger tied it with Kasper Bjorkqvist earning the assists.
Tiuraniemi intercepted a Friar clearing attempt and scored with a shot from the point but Conway answered as he converted from the bottom of the circle after being set up by Brandon Duhaime and Spenser Young.
Hayden Hawkey finished with 21 saves for Providence and Swayman had 37 for the Black Bears.
“It was a good hockey game,” said UMaine coach Red Gendron. “There were ebbs and flows to it.
“For us, it’s about coming back (Saturday) night. You don’t get anything for winning one game, you’ve got to win two. That’s how we look at it,” he said.
Gendron said after jumping out to the 2-0 lead, Providence “pushed back and tied it” and the Black Bears didn’t play as well as they needed to in that first period, being outshot 17-7.
“But I thought we played pretty well after that. In the second period, we spent a lot of time in the box and they tied it on the power play. The bottom line is we were still in decent shape,” Gendron added.
The Black Bears pulled Swayman in favor of the extra attacker late in the game but couldn’t generate any great chances.