ORONO — The Maine men’s hockey team played its worst game of the season Friday, and yet there’s this silver lining:
The Black Bears essentially were granted a do-over for Saturday’s season finale.
Maine was flat, tight and no match for Providence Friday, losing 4-2 before an announced crowd of 4,200 at Alfond Arena.
But when New Hampshire and Vermont also lost, it meant that the Black Bears have one more chance to clinch a top-four seed in Hockey East, which would mean a first-round bye in the playoffs and the chance to host a quarterfinal series in two weeks.
“We just got a Christmas gift by virtue of how the other scores played out,” Maine Coach Red Gendron said. “Now our team will be in precisely the same situation that we were in tonight, mentally. So how lucky are we? An opportunity to come out better and stronger with the exact same scenario. Personally, I’m looking forward to it.”
The victory moved Providence (18-9-6, 10-7-2 Hockey East) into a tie for third in the conference standings. Maine (15-12-4, 10-7-2) fell to fifth place but can repass the Friars with a win Saturday.
But things will have to be dramatically different for the Black Bears. Maine center Devin Shore conceded as much after seeing his team lose for only the second time at home this season.
“Since we’ve done so well at home, sometimes we think it’s just going to happen. That can’t be the mentality,” he said.
“They had a ton to play for tonight, just like we did, and they executed. They brought their intensity and played like it was end-of-February hockey, and we didn’t.”
Providence built a 2-0 lead before Maine had its one flicker of hope midway through the second period. Freshman Blaine Byron glided across the slot under heavy pressure and fired a backhander past South Portland native Jon Gillies.
Any momentum quickly withered after Maine’s Brice O’Connor took a holding penalty a minute later. Providence’s Derek Army fired a shot that Martin Ouellette couldn’t keep in his glove, and Nick Saracino batted in the rebound to restore the two-goal lead.
The Black Bears never threatened again, mustering just a late goal from Jon Swavely after pulling Ouellette.
Gendron called it the most disappointing performance of the season.
He said his team, playing for the first time this season with all of its goals laid out clearly before it, came out tight. He said its best players, including Shore, didn’t make an impact.
Gendron blamed himself for not getting them in the right mind-set to overcome the nerves and the realization that there’s no next weekend to make up for a bad outing. If Maine slides to sixth in the final standings, a likely occurrence with a loss Saturday, it would be forced to host a one-game playoff next week before going on the road in the quarterfinals.
One game will determine so much, for both teams. And Gendron knew late Friday that he had to come up with a different message to get a better reaction from his players.
What will that be?
“I’m not exactly sure right at this moment. I wish I knew,” Gendron said. “I have to calm down a little bit, because right now I would love to hit something. But I can assure you this, I will have the answer by tomorrow (Saturday).”
Faceoff is at 7 p.m.
Mark Emmert can be contacted at 791-6424 or at: