The University of Maine hockey team’s regular season didn’t end the way the Black Bears or their fans wanted it to.
No team wants to get swept at home by a team lower in the standings, especially on Senior Night.
But that’s what happened when the University of Massachusetts beat the Black Bears 5-2 on Friday and 4-3 on Saturday, primarily because UMass’ goaltender, Cole Brady, outplayed UMaine’s Victor Ostman, and the Minutemen were more opportunistic.
The Black Bears were still able to lock up the sixth seed because league regular season champion Boston University swept Providence. UMaine and Providence tied for sixth but because UMaine swept a two-game set from the Friars in Orono on Jan. 27-28 the Black Bears got the higher seed.
So now the team that was picked to finish last in the league in the preseason coaches poll will host the team that actually finished last, Vermont, in Wednesday night’s first round HockeyEast playoff game. Faceoff is at 7 p.m.
Should UMaine hockey fans be concerned about last weekend’s back-to-back losses and subpar goaltending performance by Ostman?
Yes and no.
Goaltending is the most important aspect of playoff hockey. You simply have to have quality goaltending to win.
Ostman allowed eight goals on 35 shots in the two games, including four on only 14 shots on Saturday. Three of the eight should have been saved, three could have been saved and two he had no chance on.
Those numbers would certainly suggest a very brief playoff run.
But Ostman has had an exemplary season and those two performances shouldn’t impact him or his play going forward.
After all, there is no way the Black Bears would have finished sixth without him and he is one of nine semifinalists for the Richter Award that goes to the nation’s top Division I goaltender.
He has to turn the page and get back to playing the way that saw him hold opponents to one goal or less in 12 games.
And he has shown the ability to bounce back from his few poor outings all season long.
After allowing eight goals on 40 shots in 68 minutes of back-to-back losses against BU — he was pulled after just 7:56 of the second game — he responded with 81 saves on 83 shots in two wins over Providence.
He allowed five goals on 25 shots in a 5-3 loss to BU but then allowed just six goals in his next five starts and made 132 saves.
Ostman took full responsibility for his sub-par performances but isn’t going to dwell on it.
“I’m not worrying about it too much. I’ve got to be better and I know that. But I’m also looking forward to Wednesday,” said Ostman following Saturday’s game.
“Hopefully, I got my bad games out of the way and it’s just going to be good ones from now on,” Ostman added.
UMaine will also have to do a better job at the Vermont net front.
UMass did a nice job limiting UMaine’s second chance opportunities all weekend and UMaine has to be able to penetrate that imaginary circle between the two faceoff circles and score some of those greasy, hard-working goals.
Vermont will come into the game with just one win in its last eight games (1-5-2), an overall record of 10-19-5 and a Hockey East mark of 5-16-3.
It doesn’t matter.
Vermont is ranked 61st among 62 Division I teams in scoring at just 1.82 goals per game.
It doesn’t matter.
UMaine swept Vermont in Burlington 3-1, 5-1 on Dec. 2-3 and outshot the Catamounts 72-36.
It doesn’t matter.
It is playoff time.
After 60 minutes on Wednesday, one team will move on to the quarterfinals and the other will call it a season.
If Ostman returns to form and UMaine plays the way it did on Saturday night by finishing its checks and winning most of the battles for loose pucks, the Black Bears will have a good shot to win and advance.
But nothing is easy in the playoffs, especially in hockey where goalies have such a profound influence on the outcome.