Fourth-ranked New Hampshire had an opportunity this weekend to secure home-ice advantage in the Hockey East quarterfinals.
But a loss to Maine Friday night and a 4-4 tie with the Black Bears Saturday afternoon at the Whittemore Center meant the Wildcats were forced to wait until the night games to know where they would be seeded for the conference tournament. And the results left UNH in fifth place, meaning they will play at Providence next weekend.
UNH (18-9-7, 13-8-6), which had five ties in the last nine regular-season games, had plenty of chances against Maine (10-18-8, 6-13-8). The Wildcats held leads of 2-0 and 3-1 but gave up three straight goals from the latter part of the second period to the midway point of the third.
UNH then had to fight back from a one-goal deficit, which it did with a power-play tally, to earn the point.
Over the course of a season, as the stakes rise, the best players on each team often cancel one another out.
Down the stretch, everyone is relying on their goaltenders to be strong, their defense to be sound, and their offense to be opportunistic.
But one area that’s absolutely critical for teams is production from role players.
On Saturday, there was no better illustration of that than UNH’s fourth line of freshman left wing Maxim Gaudreault, senior center Scott Pavelski, and sophomore right wing Jay Camper.
Pavelski was a particular highlight. His parents were in the house from Wisconsin to celebrate the senior’s last regular-season home game. Pavelski has had a hard-working, if not illustrious, career with the Wildcats. In the two previous seasons, he had difficulty cracking the deep and talented lineup.
This season, he has carved out a niche and on Saturday he was playing his 76th career game and 33d of the season.
Pavelski, the younger brother of the San Jose Sharks’ Joe Pavelski, got his team’s offense started.
He scored his fourth goal of the season at 15:59 of the first, with Gaudreault assisting.
Gaudreault got the second goal at 14:06 of the second period. Maine captain Joey Diamond put the Black Bears on the board at 15:28. But Grayson Downing answered right back just 32 seconds later and UNH regained its two-goal lead at 3-1.
The Black Bears started to surge at 18:03 when Adam Shemansky potted his third of the season. They carried that momentum into the third with another Diamond goal at 5:58, which evened the game at 3. Will Merchant gave Maine its first lead of the contest at 7:14 but the Wildcats rallied at 16:22 on Eric Knodel’s long-range blast during the man advantage.
UNH goaltender Casey DeSmith had 32 saves. Maine’s Martin Ouellette made 31.
UNH coach Dick Umile said he’ll take the point but he wasn’t thrilled about it.
“We had an opportunity to win it and gave it up in the third period,’’ said Umile. “I’m not too pleased with that. We wanted to win. We are disappointed we did not win the game. We lost faceoffs and they scored goals on faceoffs. We’re very disappointed with that.”