BURLINGTON, Vt. – With their backs against the wall and the University of Vermont celebrating Seniors Night, it was three University of Maine seniors who teamed with a junior goalie to ensure that a thorough performance didn’t go unrewarded Saturday night.
Center Wes Clark scored the game-winner; left wing Billy Ryan scored his first goal since Jan. 6 and added an assist and center Keenan Hopson had two assists to support the 30-save goaltending of Ben Bishop and supply the Bears with an impressive 3-0 victory over Vermont at the Gutterson Fieldhouse.
Chris Hahn scored the other goal on the power play.
Maine is now 11-18-3 overall, 7-15-3 in Hockey East and the Bears remained two points behind UMass in the battle for the eighth and final playoff berth.
Merrimack stayed alive by tying league champion New Hampshire 1-1. The Warriors are two points behind Maine and four behind UMass.
Maine owns the tiebreaker against UMass courtesy of its two wins in three games over the Minutemen but Merrimack would win any other tiebreaker against Maine or UMass and if there is a three-way tie.
Maine has won three of its last four after losing seven in a row. The triumph ended a five-game road losing streak.
Vermont had its season-high five-game winning streak snapped and fell to 13-12-7 and 12-8-5, respectively. The Catamounts had won their previous four home games.
“We played a complete game,” said Bishop, who made 13 Grade-A (high-percentage) saves among his 30. “The forwards and defense did a great job and that made it easy on me. I felt relaxed. I felt good out there.
“This was one of the better wins of the season,” added Bishop.
Bishop’s shutout was his second of the year and fifth of his career.
He has posted a .944 save percentage over his last six games (187 saves on 198 shots).
Soon after UVM’s Jack Downing rang a shot off the crossbar, Clark scored his game-winner.
It came at the 14:40 mark of the first period as he converted an Andrew Sweetland pass from behind the net.
“He put it right on my tape,” said Clark. “I saw an opening and shot it as quickly as I could.”
Clark beat UVM goalie Joe Fallon with a one-timer from the slot that slipped through the goalie’s pads.
Clark has now figured in seven of Maine’s 11 game-winners with two goals and five assists.
Ryan made it 2-0 4:03 into the second period as he and linemates Hopson and Hahn cycled the puck effectively behind the UVM net.
“I stayed in front of the net and got my stick free and Keenan passed it out to me. I one-timed it in the short side,” said Ryan, who was playing his fourth game after missing nine with a stress fracture in his hip.
Freshman defenseman Josh Van Dyk collected his first college point, an assist, on the Ryan goal.
Maine capitalized on its momentum to manufacture several other good scoring chances but Fallon kept them at bay with several clutch saves.
Late in the period, the Catamounts botched a two-on-one when Corey Carlson’s pass to Downing went behind him and, moments later, Bishop made an important glove save on Irwin’s wrister from the circle to the goalie’s left.
The Bears put good pressure on the UVM defensemen throughout the game and did an exceptional job making sure they had three men back at all times to limit the Catamounts to few odd-man rushes.
“We didn’t let their defensemen breathe and forced them to turn the puck over. Two of our three goals came that way,” said Ryan. “We kept our third man high [in the offensive zone]. And [Bishop] has played unbelievable the past six games. He’s been the best goalie in the country.”
Maine iced it with 1:01 remaining in regulation as Ryan made a nifty between-the-legs pass from behind the net to the unattended Hahn, who roofed it into the short side from 15 feet out.
“I finally got the puck up on him,” said Hahn, who had a team-high five shots on goal.
Just prior to the goal, UVM junior right wing and co-captain Dean Strong had a golden opportunity to cut into the lead when he was left unattended in front of the net to Bishop’s right and took a diagonal feed from Mark Lutz.
“I was going across with a two-pad stack and I put my paddle [stick] down. He had nowhere to go,” said Bishop who extended his stick to knock the puck away from Strong as he tried to pull the puck around the goalie.
Maine outshot UVM 33-30.
Fallon made eight Grade-A saves among his 30.
“Maine played a fantastic game,” said UVM coach Kevin Sneddon. “We didn’t have great puck skills tonight. They did a great job pressuring us. Maine certainly deserved the win.”
BLACK BEARS 3, CATAMOUNTS 0
Maine (11-18-3) 1 1 1 – 3
Vermont (13-12-7) 0 0 0 – 0
First period – 1. Maine, Clark 10 (Sweetland, Bellamy), 14:40. Penalties: Maine, Belmore, slashing, 7:12; Maine, House, obstruction-holding, 15:38; Maine, Clark, boarding, 20:00.
Second period – 2. Maine, Ryan 5 (Hopson, Van Dyk), 4:03. Penalties: UVM, Lenes, interference, 13:26.
Third period – 3. Maine, Hahn 6 (Ryan, Hopson), 18:59 (pp). Penalties: UVM, Downing, hitting from behind, 7:38; UVM, Lenes, charging, 17:22.
Shots on goal: Maine 11-12-10-33; UVM 11-12-7-30
Goaltenders: Maine, Bishop (30-30); UVM, Fallon (33-30), Hill (19:30 of 3rd, 0-0)
Power-play opportunities: Maine 1-3, UVM 0-3
High-percentage scoring chances: Maine 4-7-8-19; UVM 3-7-7-17
Attendance: 4,003 (sell-out)