ORONO, Maine — Senior center Cedric Lacroix is known for his hard-nosed play as an effective checking line center and penalty-killer.
But he turned into a goal scorer on Friday night, breaking a 1-1 tie with just 3:31 left in regulation and adding an empty-netter to help the sixth-seeded Black Bears beat 11th-seed University of New Hampshire 4-1 in the first game of their best-of-three first-round Hockey East series at Alfond Arena.
The second game will be at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, and the if necessary game will be at 4 p.m. Sunday.
UMaine outshot UNH 49-27 and had a decided edge in puck possession.
UMaine is now 17-14-4, while UNH fell to 10-19-6 and had its winless streak extended to seven games (0-6-1).
Liam Blackburn’s first-period power play goal gave UNH a 1-0 lead but Brendan Robbins drew UMaine level in the second period.
Mitch Fossier and Alexis Binner assisted on Lacroix’s game-winner.
The Black Bears were in the midst of a line change and Binner sent a pass across to Fossier, who dashed down the right wing.
Fossier was tangled up with a UNH defenseman but was able to get one hand free and he shoveled the puck across the low slot.
“I heard Binner calling for the puck,” said Fossier.
The puck squirted through a posse of players to the far post, and Lacroix flipped it home for his 20th career goal and fifth this season.
“Their forward was late picking me up,” said Lacroix. “I went to the net and I looked up and the puck was on my stick. Their goalie (Danny Tirone) moves very well laterally but he was a little late getting over and I put it in the short side.”
Lacroix pointed out that it was his first goal at Alfond Arena this season.
“We didn’t play that rush very well,” said irritated UNH coach Dick Umile.
UMaine coach Red Gendron said Lacroix was certainly deserving of his game-winner.
“Ceddy played very well in all phases of the game,” said Gendron.
Tirone kept his team within one when he made a glove save on Patrick Shea’s breakaway backhander with just over two minute to play.
The Wildcats pulled Tirone in favor of the extra attacker with 1:45 left, but UMaine won the faceoff in their end and Robbins pushed it ahead to Tim Doherty, who skated across the red line and fired the puck into the empty net.
Lacroix added his second into an empty net with a head-first dive as he steered the puck in for his sixth career goal against UNH.
He scored his first collegiate goal against UNH in Portland.
Freshman Jeremy Swayman made 26 saves in his first collegiate playoff game. Tirone finished with 45 stops.
Sophomore center Blackburn’s power play goal came at the 16:01 mark of the first period junior right wing and Nashua, New Hampshire, native Brendan Robbins equalized 3:13 into the second period.
The Black Bears had the lion’s share of the puck in the first period, but Tirone was stellar and stopped all 19 shots he faced.
UNH had nine shots.
UMaine attempted 31 shots to UNH’s 13.
The Black Bears had a potential tying goal waved off with 2:10 left in the period when it was ruled that a Black Bear touched the puck with a high stick before it was fired into the net during a goalmouth scramble.
UNH scored just eight seconds after a frustrated Nolan Vesey took a cross-checking penalty.
Jason Salvaggio wristed the puck from the left point that hit a body in front. Marcus Vela whacked at the puck and the rebound deflected over to the right circle, where Blackburn one-timed it into the half-empty net. It was his 10th goal of the season.
The goal snapped a UNH goalless drought of 186 minutes and 39 seconds.
Tirone made a couple of gems in the period, flashing out his right pad to kick out a Robbins snap shot from the right circle and sliding across his crease to stymie Fossier, who made a nifty move before speeding around a defenseman and cutting across the top of the crease.
The second period was a little more even but Robbins scored a hustle goal to tie it.
Rob Michel fired the puck into the UNH zone to the left of Tirone and it was going to be icing, but Robbins outraced the UNH defense to nullify the icing and then one-timed the puck after it came to him off the boards behind the net.
Tirone got a piece of the shot, but it glanced off his body and carried into the net for Robbins’ 11th of the season.
UMaine had a 12-11 edge in shots in the second period, and Swayman made a couple of tie-preserving saves off UNH senior left wing Salvaggio, a 23-goal scorer in 2016-17.
Salvaggio teed up a slap shot just inside the left circle and Swayman smothered it with his pads, and he had another opportunity on the same shift but Swayman kicked that one out, too.
UNH had a potential go-ahead goal 3:36 into the third period, but it was waved off because it was directed in by Charlie Kelleher’s body.
Gendron called his team’s performance “solid.
“But we have things we have to improve on. We’ve got to be better tomorrow night. Their goalie played great,” said Gendron.
Fossier and Lacroix said they felt the team turned in a good performance.
“We didn’t get flustered after they scored the first goal,” said Lacroix.
“We played well. Their goalie played very well. We got a lot of shots,” said Fossier.
“The guys stuck with it,” said Gendron.
Umile said after a poor first period, his team “got better as the game went along.”
Robbins had an assist to go with his goal and freshman defenseman Brady Keeper had two assists.