ORONO, Maine — The parade to the penalty box continued as did the descendancy to the Hockey East basement for the University of Maine men’s hockey team Saturday night.
The sellout crowd of 5,125 saw freshman center Liam Blackburn score two power-play goals and senior right wing Tyler Kelleher notch his second two-goal, one-assist performance in as many nights as the University of New Hampshire again took advantage of the penalty-prone Black Bears to post a 4-3 Hockey East triumph.
UNH, 8-6-2 overall and 5-1-1 in Hockey East, extended its unbeaten streak against the last-place Black Bears (5-9-3, 1-6-1 HE) to six games (5-0-1).
Junior Danny Tirone turned in a superb 38-save performance for UNH to decisively win the goaltending duel with UMaine sophomore Rob McGovern, who finished with 25 stops.
Tirone made 32 saves over the final two periods as UMaine outshot UNH 34-17 during that stretch.
UNH, which entered the game with the nation’s 13th best power play percentage at 21.3 percent, went 3-for-7 with the man-advantage, including a goal on one of its two extensive five-on-threes.
UMaine is now 1-6-1 when it gives the opponent at least seven power play chances in a game.
Rob Michel staked UMaine to a 1-0 lead on the power play but Blaine Byron and Mark Hamilton took penalties 1:04 apart later in the period, and UNH made the Black Bears pay dearly as Kelleher tied it on a 5-on-3 and Blackburn scored 43 seconds later with the one-man advantage to give UNH a lead it would never relinquish.
Blackburn’s power-play tally was the only goal in the second period, which was dominated by UMaine, and then Cam Brown pulled Maine within one 3:38 into the third period with a 12-foot wrist shot that squeezed through Tirone’s pads.
Kelleher extended the lead when he zipped a wrist shot through the legs of a UMaine defenseman as well as McGovern’s with 2:53 remaining but Chase Pearson made things interesting by scoring off a pass from Mitch Fossier with 25 seconds left and McGovern on the bench in favor of the extra attacker.
But UMaine couldn’t tie it up.
“I worked on that a little on that this summer, trying to change the angle on the defenseman and put it between his legs and, luckily, it went in,” Kelleher said about what proved to be the game-winner.
“We did a million good things,” UMaine coach Red Gendron said. “We generated a ton of offense five-on-five, and we defended very well the entire game. But we took some penalties, and they took advantage. You can’t put that team on the power play that often.”
When asked about McGovern’s performance, Gendron declined to comment.
“Their power play was effective and we gave them too many chances,” said UMaine senior right wing Blaine Byron, who credited Tirone for his role in UNH’s win.
“He found a way to get in front of the puck,” Byron said. “He made a lot of good rebound saves. He came out far and challenged us. We did a good job getting the puck to the net and getting second-chance opportunities but we weren’t able to put it past him.”
“They had a lot of chances but he kept us in it,” said the shifty and talented 5-foot-6, 160-pound Kelleher, who has five goals and 14 assists in his career against UMaine.
“I thought I played well,” Tirone said. “They certainly create a lot of chaos in their rink and they got me out of position sometimes so I battled and tried to make the save however I could.”
Trailing 2-1, the Black Bears carried the play in the second period but Tirone stopped all 21 shots he faced, including a terrific stop on Byron’s point-blank one-timer off a perfect feed from Brendan Robbins.
And, shortly after Tirone’s save, Blackburn expanded the lead against the run of play when he took a pass from Kelleher in the left circle and sailed a rising wrist shot past the glove side of McGovern, who had dropped down early and left the top of the net exposed.
“One of their defensemen went down on one knee, and I tried to get the shot past him toward [McGovern’s] glove side. It went inside the post,” Blackburn said.
“That was a huge goal for us,” UNH coach Dick Umile said.
Sophomore defenseman Michel opened the scoring with his fourth goal in seven games thanks to Nolan Vesey. Vesey used a burst of speed to break free down the right wing before sliding the puck to Michel, who settled the puck and wristed it past the glove of Tirone with 6:38 left in the period.
The lead lasted exactly five minutes.
With the two-man advantage, Patrick Grasso slipped the puck to Michael McNicholas behind the net, and he spied Kelleher at the inner edge of the right circle. Kelleher one-timed it past McGovern’s blocker.
Blackburn gave UNH the lead off a Marcus Vela feed.
McGovern held the short side to stop a tip-in attempt but Vela tracked the puck behind the net and made a quick pass out to Blackburn in the left circle, and he snapped a quick wrister inside the near post before the late-arriving McGovern could stop it.