ORONO – The University of Maine men’s hockey team hoped to bring down the hammer and secure one of the top four playoff spots in Hockey East.

Instead, the Black Bears must go down to the wire in hopes of earning home ice for the Hockey East quarterfinals.

Matt Irwin scored two goals Friday night at Alfond Arena to lead Massachusetts to a 5-2 win over the 17th-ranked Black Bears. Maine can still clinch third place with a win or a tie in tonight’s regular-season finale against the Minutemen, but the Black Bears could fall to fifth place if they lose.

“We weren’t ready to play and it showed,” said Maine goalie Shawn Sirman. “They were fighting for their playoff lives and they’re just not going to roll over.

“They definitely outworked us. We can’t do that (Saturday) if we expect to win. We want home ice, and we’ve got to play a lot better.”

Maine, which has lost five of its last seven games, clinched a playoff berth last Saturday with a 5-1 win at Merrimack. The Black Bears (16-14-3, 13-11-2 Hockey East) enter the last game of the regular season in third place with 28 points, just ahead of UMass-Lowell (27) and Boston University (26).

UMass, meanwhile, moved into a three-way tie with Northeastern and Vermont for seventh place with 24 points.

“We thought it was going to come easy,” said Spencer Abbott, who scored Maine’s first goal after the Minutemen opened a 4-0 lead.

“The league’s so tight this year. (UMass) could go from second to last to sixth, or something like that. The league’s crazy, so we can’t take any game lightly. That’s what we did.”

The Minutemen (17-16, 12-14) grabbed a 1-0 lead less than a minute into the game, then scored three goals in the second period as they snapped a six-game losing streak that spanned the month of February.

“It just keeps us in the mix,” said UMass Coach Don Cahoon. “They’re going to be fighting for home ice and we’re fighting for our lives.”

Just 52 seconds into the game, T.J. Syner dug out a rebound and beat Sirman (13 saves).

Maine had a chance to tie it later in the period, but UMass goalie Paul Dainton (25 saves) stopped Adam Shemansky on a one-on-one attempt. Syner drew a hooking penalty on the play, but the Black Bears couldn’t take advantage of the power play, and Sirman had to stop Brett Watson on a short-handed breakaway.

In the second period, UMass defenseman Matt Irwin scored twice in less than seven minutes. He gave the Minutemen a 2-0 lead at 4:17 when he deflected Justin Braun’s shot from the point past Sirman, then made it 3-0 with a power-play goal from the top of the right circle.

After Irwin’s second goal, Dave Wilson replaced Sirman, but Braun scored less than three minutes later to give UMass a 4-0 advantage.

Abbott scored on a power play with 5:30 left in the second, and Maine outshot UMass 8-0 in the first 10 minutes of the third. Will O’Neill beat Dainton with a shot from the right point to cut the lead to 4-2 with 10:34 left in regulation.

Maine could get no closer, though, and Watson scored an empty-net goal with 45 seconds left.

“We gave our goalies no help,” Maine center Robby Dee said. “We didn’t give them any help at all. If you want to win, if you want to go far in the playoffs, we cannot play like that.”

 

Staff Writer Rachel Lenzi can be contacted at 791-6415 or at:

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