BOSTON – Three down and one very big one to go.
The University of Maine’s hockey team received superb 23-save goaltending from sophomore Alfie Michaud and goals from six different players en route to a 6-2 victory over UMass-Lowell in their Hockey East semifinal at the FleetCenter Friday night.
Sixth-seed Maine, now 17-14-4, will take on No. 2 Boston College, 25-8-5 and a 7-2 winner over No. 8 Merrimack in the semifinal opener. Maine and BC will play at 8 p.m. Saturday.
UMass-Lowell finished up at 16-17-3 including an 0-3-1 mark against the Bears this season.
Maine, which held its own in the physical department against the rugged River Hawks, is now 10-1 in Hockey East semifinal games.
Maine is 8-0 against UMass-Lowell in the Hockey East playoffs.
Cory Larose’s first-period goal and Dan Kerluke’s second-period score staked Maine to a 2-0 lead.
Michaud stopped all 17 shots through the first two periods including several gems. Maine had 10 shots over the first 40 minutes.
“Alfie was the difference in the game,” said Maine’s Scott Parmentier, who scored the clinching goal in the third period.
“In the second period, we threw the kitchen sink at them but Alfie had his foot in front of it,” said UMass-Lowell coach Tim Whitehead. “We needed to come out of the second period with something.”
UMass-Lowell outshot Maine 13-5 in the middle period.
UMass-Lowell defenseman and captain Mike Nicholishen said, “Michaud played great when he had to. And they capitalized on our mistakes.”
Michaud said, “I’m just playing second by second. The guys played great defense in front of me. I didn’t see any second shots. I felt real good out there. I’m focused. I’m looking forward to Saturday night.”
Steve Kariya’s breakaway backhander between the pads of UMass-Lowell goalie Martin Fillion made it 3-0 early in the third period but goalie Martin Fillion made it 3-0 early in the third period but Jeff Boulanger answered seconds after the ensuing center ice faceoff.
Robert Ek’s power-play screened shot from the point that deflected off a River Hawk stick re-established the three-goal cushion but, again, the stubborn River Hawks answered quickly on a Greg Koehler power-play goal as he swept Anthony Cappelletti’s deflected shot behind Michaud.
But the Bears finally put the River Hawks away when Parmentier and Jason Vitorino scored.
Bobby Stewart forced a turnover in the corner and Parmentier blasted a 20-footer over Fillion’s glove.
“The puck was rolling slowly towards me and I just let a slap shot go,” said Parmentier.
Vitorino capitalized on some excellent corner work by Shawn Wansborough, who protected the puck before sliding a pass out to Vitorino who one-timed a 17-footer past Fillion.
Larose’s ninth goal in nine games gave Maine the lead for good in the first period and Kerluke’s second-period goal came on one of several glittering chances manufactured by both teams.
Michaud and Fillion were sharp in the second period after facing only nine shots on goal between them in the first 20 minutes.
Larose’s goal came on a centering pass from Marcus Gustafsson.
Larose was in the low slot directly in front of Fillion and partially fanned on his initial wrist shot. Fillion got a piece of it but the rebound came back to Larose and he chipped a little backhander past Fillion’s left pad.
Maine held the River Hawks to two shots on goal until the final five seconds when Michaud had to make back-to-back stops on Koehler’s 35-footer and Nicholishen’s 16-foot rebound.
The River Hawks elevated their game up a notch over the first 10 minutes of the second period and had the first seven shots on goal.
Michaud made two huge saves early in the period.
He put his blocker and stick down on the ice to stop an against-the-grain backhander by Shannon Basaraba, who cut in alone from left to right.
Michaud then robbed Boulanger with his stick and pads after Boulanger one-timed a deflected puck from the middle of the slot.
Maine didn’t get its first shot on goal until there was 10:04 left and, just seconds later, Kerluke scored.
Gustafsson won a faceoff and got off a quick shot. Fillion made a good pad save but the rebound richocheted right in front and Kerluke snapped a 14-footer over Fillion’s stick.
Maine had two great chances to build on the lead but Fillion made a couple of gems by getting his left pad and glove on Kariya’s breakaway and flashing out his stick hand to knock away Ek’s one-timer off a two-on-one with Shawn Wansborough.
“I learned a lot from that first breakaway,” said Kariya. “The next time [when he scored], I waited until he slid over and opened up some space between his legs.”
Whitehead said, “Maine deserved to win. Maine was very patient. They played very smart. In the third period, when we’d get a goal, they’d come back and get the next one.”
UMass-Lowell outshot Maine 27-23 in a game played in front of a Hockey East semifinal record crowd of 9,289.
Ed Washuk made two saves in a mopup role for Maine.
In the first game, BC sophomore right wing Kevin Caulfield, who came into the game with 10 goals in 73 career games, had the first and third goals of the decisive second-period flurry.
Caulfield scored his first one with 5:01 remaining in the period off the rebound of a Mike Mottau shot from the high slot. Caulfield, parked to the left of Merrimack goalie Tom Welby, fought off a check by Drew Hale and lifted the rebound over Welby from a difficult angle.
Black Bears 6, River Hawks 2 Maine (17-14-4) 1 1 4 – 6 UMass-Lowell (16-17-3) 0 0 2 – 2
First period – 1. M, Larose 15 (Gustafsson), 7:40; Penalties: UML, Cappelletti, interference, 4:25; M, Wansborough, interference, 4:54; M, Guite, interference, 7:58; UML, Bertram, holding, 8:20
Second period – 2. M, Kerluke 10 (Gustafsson), 9:59; Penalties: UML, Bertram, tripping, 2:48; M, Lundback, high sticking, 12:57
Third period – 3. M, Kariya 24 (Jaaskelainen), 7:37; 4. UML, Boulanger 12 (Kidney, Rooney), 7:43; 5. M, Ek 2 (Lundback, Leger), 11:09 (pp); 6. UML, Keohler 20 (Cappelletti, Bell), 12:35 (pp); 7. M, Parmentier 14 (Stewart), 13:51; 8. Vitorino 5 (Wansborough, Guite), 14:56; Penalties: UML, Libett, hooking, 9:35; M, Kariya, slashing, 12:18; M, Vitorino, hitting after the whistle, 15:20; UML, Bell, hitting after the whistle, 15:20; M, Begg, tripping, 16:10
Shots on goal: Maine 5-5-13-23, UMass-Lowell 4-13-10-27
Goalies: Maine, Michaud, Washuk; UML, Fillion
Power-play Opportunities: Maine 1 of 4; UMass-Lowell 1 of 5