AMHERST, Mass. – The only thing close about the University of Massachusetts’ 5-3 Hockey East victory over the University of Maine Saturday night was the score.
Black Bear junior goalie Ben Bishop made a career-high 49 saves as the decisively superior Minutemen outshot Maine 54-23 and attempted 85 shots to Maine’s 39.
Maine had no answer for the dynamic UMass line of junior center Cory Quirk between freshmen wingers James Marcou and Chase Langeraap. They combined for three goals and four assists with Quirk and Marcou collecting a goal and two assists apiece and Langeraap contributing a goal.
UMass (10-9-6, 5-8-5 HE) snapped a seven-game winless streak (0-6-1) and, more importantly, expanded its lead over Maine for the eighth and final Hockey East playoff berth to four points. UMass has played one more game.
Maine (8-13-3, 4-10-3 HE) has lost three straight, is 0-3-1 in its last four games, and is 2-10-2 in its last 14 league contests.
Freshman defenseman Kevin Kessler’s first career goal in just his sixth game broke a 1-1 tie in the second period and gave the Minutemen a lead they would never relinquish.
P.J. Fenton scored a power- play goal to build the lead to 3-1 with 45 seconds left in the second period and he also assisted on Quirk’s empty-netter with 44 seconds remaining.
Maine senior defenseman and captain Travis Ramsey staked Maine to a 1-0 lead 52 seconds into the game by one-timing a long, cross-ice pass from Bret Tyler past UMass freshman goalie Paul Dainton.
Senior right wing and first-year player Nolan Boike and freshman center Keif Orsini scored third-period goals to pull Maine within 4-3 with 7:40 left, but the Bears couldn’t get the equalizer as Tanner House’s blistering slap shot from the top of the right circle in the final minute sailed inches wide of the far corner.
Bishop was on the bench in favor of the extra attacker.
“UMass was clearly the better team,” said Maine coach Tim Whitehead. “They played a great game. They played with a lot of energy. We had no business being [close] in the game at the end. Ben gave us a tremendous effort. He kept us in the game.”
Bishop made 15 Grade-A (high-percentage) saves including several terrific reaction stops right at his doorstep as the Minutemen crashed the net purposefully.
“I can play better,” said Bishop. “I made a few mistakes and they cost us the game.”
The Black Bears also shot themselves in the foot by giving the Minutemen eight power- play chances. Maine had just two power-play opportunities. UMass had 18 shots on goal on the power play and had a full two-minute, two-man advantage that Bishop and the Bears were able to kill off.
Whitehead said with a depleted lineup – Maine has four forwards sidelined by injuries – they couldn’t afford to take the number of penalties they did. Not only did it give the Minutemen power-play chances, killing penalties wore out Maine’s best players.
“The bottom line is we have to stay out of the penalty box,” Ramsey said.
Ramsey’s goal came on Maine’s first shot but the Bears didn’t get their second shot until late in the period as UMass outshot them 22-3.
Marcou tied it with 1:18 left in period, two seconds after a Maine penalty had elapsed, as he fought his way out of the corner and spotted a loose puck in the circle to Bishop’s right.
“There was a big scrum and I came out of it and slid it past him,” said Marcou, whose wrister beat Bishop to the near post.
Kessler said that goal was one of the turning points because it gave them some confidence to take into the locker room.
Kessler, getting a chance to play due to injuries to two defensemen, broke the tie 10:52 into the second period.
“I pinched in and got the puck. No one picked me up so I went to the net and I think the puck went off the inside of his skate and in,” said Kessler, who scored from a tight angle to Bishop’s left.
“I didn’t know where the puck was,” said Bishop.
Fenton’s goal came off a nifty diagonal pass from Quirk as he cut across the slot from the left point and snapped a wrister past Bishop’s glove.
“That was an unbelievable shot. It hit the [far] post and went in,” said Bishop.
Langeraap opened the third-period scoring at the 1:14 mark off a blind, highlight-reel, backhand pass from behind the net by Marcou. Langeraap one-timed the pass into the half-empty net past the helpless Bishop.
MINUTEMEN 5, BLACK BEARS 3
Maine (8-13-3) 1 0 2 – 3
Massachusetts (10-9-6) 1 2 2 – 5
First period – 1. Maine, Ramsey 2 (Tyler, House), 0:52; 2. UMass, Marcou 8 (unassisted), 18:42. penalties: Maine, Tyler, tripping, 2:23; UMass, Langeraap, hitting after whistle, 16:03; Maine, Tyler, hitting after whistle, 16:03; Maine, Dimmen, roughing, 16:40.
Second period – 3. UMass, Kessler 1 (Burto, Berry), 10:52; 4. UMass, Fenton 5 (Quirk, Marcou), 19:15 (pp). penalties: UMass, hitting after whistle, :38; Maine, Marshall, roughing, 11:10; Maine, Dimmen, slashing, 13:18; Maine, Belmore, cross-checking, 13:18; Maine, Danis-Pepin, roughing, 17:29.
Third period – 5. UMass, Langeraap (Marcou, Quirk), 1:14; 6. Maine, Boike 1 (Dee, Marshall), 1:38; 7. Maine, Orsini 2 (Bellamy, Danis-Pepin), 12:20; 8. UMass, Quirk 8 (Braun, Fenton), 19:16. penalties: Maine, bench minor, too many men on ice, 2:28; Maine, Randall, hitting from behind, 4:39; UMass, Langeraap, hooking, 9:06.
Shots on goal: Maine 3-7-13-23; UMass 22-16-16-54
Goaltenders: Maine, Bishop (53 shots-49 saves); UMass, Dainton (23-20)
Power-play opportunities: Maine 0-2; UMass 1-8
High-percentage scoring chances: Maine 1-4-6-11; UMass 9-5-12-26