ORONO, Maine — University of Maine senior left wing Nolan Vesey hadn’t scored a goal in his previous 13 games. Freshman right wing Eduards Tralmaks had gone nine games without lighting the goal lamp.
They picked a perfect time to snap out of their droughts.
Vesey broke a 1-1 tie with 1:56 left in the second period, and Tralmaks extended the lead on the power play with 2:28 remaining in regulation as the sixth-seeded Black Bears advanced to the Hockey East quarterfinals with a 3-2 victory over 11th seed New Hampshire Alfond Arena Saturday night.
The 18-14-4 Black Bears, who beat UNH 4-1 on Friday night in their best-of-three series opener, gave fifth-year head coach Red Gendron his first Hockey East playoff series win, although they did win a one-game playoff with Merrimack in his first season, to move on to the quarterfinals.
UMaine will now travel to Providence College next weekend for a best-of-three series against the third-seeded Friars, who are 20-10-4.
UNH finished at 10-20-6, and 28-year head coach Dick Umile will retire with a career record of 596-373-114.
For the second straight night, UNH sophomore center Liam Blackburn staked UNH to a 1-0 lead with a first-period goal as he made a nifty move on a two-on-one, but Mitch Fossier tied it up 3:03 into the second period and Vesey gave UMaine the lead for good at the 18:04 mark.
Tralmaks made it 3-1 before Benton Maass scored an extra-attacker goal from the point with 53 seconds left.
But the Black Bears hung on.
Gendron said Vesey and Tralkmaks had been “snakebitten for a while so it was huge for our team [that they scored].”
“Nolan and I actually talked about it. We said we had to score to make our team win,” said Tralmaks, who had three assists and 33 shots on goal during his nine-game goalless streak.
“I had some assists but it kind of wears on you because I’ve had a ton of chances,” said Vesey, who had 36 shots and six assists during his 13-game goal famine. “When none of them fall, it can get frustrating. It was good to see one finally go in. Hopefully, it will open the floodgates for me.”
Vesey gave UMaine the lead for good off a three-on-two rush during a four-on-four situation.
Rob Michel carried the puck through the center of the ice before placing a perfect pass on the stick of Vesey speeding down the left wing. Vesey took a few strides before beating UNH goalie Danny Tirone with a 22-foot wrist shot to the far corner.
“I was calling for it, and Rob made a heads-up play. He hit me in stride, and I put it low, blocker-side, a little above the pad,” Vesey said.
“That was a good shot. He’s a good player,” Tirone said.
UMaine had carried the play over the first two periods, outshooting UNH 35-18, but Tirone kept the Wildcats within striking distance with 33 saves, including 16 of the Grade-A (high-percentage) variety.
Fossier had tied if after a multiple-shot flurry.
The puck squirted back to the point and Michel wristed it toward the net.
“I managed to get my stick on it, and it went short side,” Fossier said.
The desperate Wildcats took the play to the Black Bears early in the third period, getting the period’s first six shots on goal.
But UMaine freshman goalie Jeremy Swayman came up with several important saves to preserve the lead and Tralmaks scored what proved to be the game-winner off his own rebound after Michel had the initial shot from the point.
“I had lost my confidence in past games but this was huge,” said Tralmaks, who moved the puck to his backhand after Tirone stopped his first shot and flipped it into the half-empty net.
Michel had three assists, Fossier had an assist to go with his goal and Brady Keeper had two assists for UMaine. Swayman finished with 27 saves, including nine Grade-A’s.
Tirone wound up with 40 saves, including 19 Grade-A’s, and it was his eighth career Hockey East playoff game with at least 40 saves. He ended his career with a school-record 3,637 saves, including a Hockey East tourney-record 577 stops.
“They defended really well and they play really well in this rink,” Tirone said. “They were all over us in our end. In the third period, we threw everything we had at them but we came up just a little short. Their goalie made some real good saves. He’s a really good young goalie.”
“We played strong both nights. Tirone played very well but, thankfully, we were able to sneak a few past him,” Fossier said.
“This is a good way to go out in my last game at Alfond Arena,” Vesey said.
UNH lost senior defenseman and captain Dylan Chanter to injury in the first period, and UMaine alternate captain, center Cedric Lacroix, missed the last two periods due to injury.
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