After upsetting the No.9-ranked and defending national champion University of Massachusetts Minutemen on Friday night 3-2 in overtime, the Black Bears found themselves staring at a 3-0 deficit just 10:42 into Saturday night’s series finale at the Mullins Center in Amherst, Mass.
The gritty Black Bears answered with a pair of power play goals later in the first period but Garrett Wait’s second goal of the game, coming with 9:54 left in regulation, squelched the comeback and finished off a 4-2 triumph.
UMass is now 16-9-2 overall and 11-5-2 in Hockey East and moved into a first place tie with UMass Lowell with 37 points apiece.
UMass has played one less game than the River Hawks.
UMaine is 5-17-4 and 3-13-2 and is in last place, one point behind Vermont, which has played two fewer league games than the Black Bears.
UMaine was without graduate student center and captain Jack Quinlivan, who was suspended for one game for an incident that occurred with eight seconds left in the second period of Friday night’s game.
UMaine also lost its best defenseman, senior Jakub Sirota, to a lower body injury in the second period.
Wait’s ninth goal of the season, Josh Lopina’s seventh and Eric Faith’s second staked UMass to a 3-0 lead.
Lopina’s goal came on the power play.
Donavan Houle, who scored the overtime game-winner on Friday night, scored his 10th at the 14:03 mark of the initial period and Adrien Bisson potted his fourth five minutes later.
Both teams had glorious scoring chances in the second period and into the third, but UMass graduate student goalie Matt Murray and UMaine sophomore Victor Ostman made several top-notch saves including a glove stop by Ostman on UMass scoring leader Bobby Trivigno’s breakaway.
Murray finished with 22 saves while Ostman turned aside 34 shots.
Wait finally gave the Minutemen some breathing room when he took a Trivigno pass at the side of the net and got off a quick point-blank backhander that Ostman saved.
But the puck popped in the air and Wait swatted the waist-high puck past Ostman on the short side.
It was Wait’s third goal of the series.
He had opened the scoring just 4:16 into the game when he found some open ice in the middle of the slot and shoveled a Lopina pass past Ostman from just 14 feet out.
Lopina made it 2-0 just 4:56 later off a nifty feed from Scott Morrow.
Morrow was at the top of the left faceoff circle and made a diagonal pass to Lopina, who had his stick well-positioned on the ice and directed the puck past the glove side of Ostman.
Faith made it 3-0 when he broke down the right wing on a two-on-one and fired a shot from the right circle that beat Ostman.
University of Maine first-year head coach Ben Barr, who had spent the previous five seasons as the associate head coach/recruiting coordinator at UMass, called a timeout to try to stem the tide and it worked.
Houle made it 3-1 when he spun around and swept a David Breazeale rebound into the open net from just outside the crease.
Bisson also capitalized on a rebound as he skated into the left circle and fired the puck past Murray after the goalie had made the initial save on Sam Duerr’s point shot.
It was just the third time this season UMaine had scored more than one power play goal in a game.
“We got off to a bad start. There was bad defensive zone coverage on the first goal,” said Barr. “But the guys were resilient. They came back. It was nice to see us score two power play goals.
“But we didn’t have much pushback in the second and third periods. UMass is a really good team. They wear you out,” said Barr, whose team was outshot 29-10 over the final two periods after outshooting UMass 14-9 in the first.
Trivigno finished with three assists and Ryan Ufko had two.
UMaine will return home for a two-game series against New Hampshire next Friday and Saturday at 7 p.m.
UMass plays a home-and-home series with UConn next weekend.