Hockey is a funny sport.
You can turn in a dominating performance and lose, or play poorly and win.
That’s because goaltenders play such a large role in the outcomes, more so than in almost any other sport.
University of Maine hockey junior goalie Victor Ostman and his teammates had a forgettable weekend at Boston University two weekends ago, allowing 14 goals in back-to-back games for just the fourth time since 1986 as the high-powered Terriers swept the Black Bears 5-1 and 9-6.
Ostman allowed five goals on 33 shots the first night at BU and was yanked in the second game after allowing three goals on just seven shots. He played just seven minutes and 56 seconds.
But the 6-foot-4, 205-pound native of Danderyd, Sweden, rebounded in dramatic fashion this past weekend, stopping 81 of 83 shots to lead the Black Bears to a 3-2, 3-0 sweep of nationally ranked Providence.
He made 52 saves on Saturday and now has four shutouts on the season. It is the most shutouts in a season since the 2013-14 Black Bears posted four shutouts.
And there are still 10 regular season games to go before the Hockey East playoffs.
Entering this season, UMaine hadn’t had a shutout since Jeremy Swayman — a Mike Richter Award winner, given to the nation’s top goalie — stopped 48 shots in a 1-0 Seniors Night victory against Providence on March 6, 2020.
The Black Bears deserved to win Friday night’s game but should have lost Saturday’s game by at least three goals.
At one point during the second period of Saturday’s game, Providence had a 30-6 edge in shots on goal and the Friars finished with a 52-21 advantage.
Ostman was sensational — although it should be noted that Providence has nowhere near the firepower of BU and he rarely had to face more than one shot in a sequence as his teammates did a respectable job clearing the net front for him.
He has become much more consistent than his first two seasons and gives UMaine a chance to win every time.
You can’t underestimate the importance a top-notch goalie has on a team’s mindset. Teams play with more confidence knowing that their goalie can bail them out if necessary.
They aren’t as worried about making a mistake. When you are concerned about your goaltending, you tend to play tentatively and back on your heels.
“Having a goalie like Victor in net is so relieving, knowing if we let down at points, he will bail us out time after time,” said UMaine junior center and assistant captain Lynden Breen following Saturday’s win. “At times, we helped him out, too.”
“We had a lot of guys blocking pucks again tonight,” Breen continued. “Still, we let them get 52 shots. We had to kill a lot of penalties and Victor was our best player.”
Ostman has held teams to two or fewer goals in 11 of his starts.
This UMaine team can’t play tentatively and expect to win. It has to be aggressive, finish checks and use its speed and tenacity to suffocate its opponents.
To use a basketball analogy, UMaine needs to play a full-court press because it isn’t going to win a half-court game.
It needs to force turnovers.
It doesn’t have the skill level most of the other Hockey East schools have, although it has significantly closed the talent gap from a year ago.
UMaine is currently 11-12-2 overall, 5-8-1 in Hockey East.
It has already won four more games overall than a year ago (7-22-4) and has equalled its Hockey East total from last year (5-17-2).
The lively and sizable Alfond Arena crowds took one back to the heydays of UMaine hockey when the Black Bears were national championship contenders.
UMaine is now 9-4-1 in its last 14 games.
The power play — which had been one of the worst in the country — has suddenly come alive with five goals in 11 chances over its last three games.
The Black Bears are progressing and it will be intriguing to see what they learned from the BU series on Friday night when they host the third-ranked Terriers before entertaining No. 15 Merrimack for a 2 p.m. game on Sunday.