ORONO — The Maine men’s hockey team will get one more game at Alfond Arena, but this is not how they wanted it.
The Black Bears spent two periods sputtering before finally pressuring Providence on Saturday, falling 3-2 in the regular-season finale.
The No. 18 Black Bears (15-13-4, 9-8-3 Hockey East), winless in their final two weekends, fell to sixth in Hockey East and will host a one-game playoff against Merrimack at 7 p.m. Saturday.
Maine honored its five seniors Saturday, but only four of them were supposed to see action. That changed after a pivotal sequence in the second period.
First, Maine had a five-on-three advantage for 2 minutes, controlled the puck throughout and sent six shots at Providence goaltender Jon Gillies, a native of South Portland. Gillies, and a swarming defense, were equal to the task.
“The guys did a great job of getting in shot lanes, and when they weren’t they were doing a good job of getting right out of the way, so I could see everything,” said Gillies, who made 35 saves. “The shots that went wide were because our guys were in the lanes, and that’s all you can ask for in a five-on-three.”
No. 12 Providence (19-9-6, 11-7-2) went on a power play 5 minutes later. Anthony Florentino floated a shot from the right point through traffic that nestled high into the net to give the Friars a 3-1 lead.
Maine Coach Red Gendron immediately replaced goaltender Martin Ouellette with Dan Sullivan. Both are seniors, but it was Sullivan’s first meaningful minutes of the season.
“He wasn’t playing well. It’s pretty simple,” Gendron said of Ouellette. “And I also thought that the team needed a jump-start, something positive.”
Sullivan stopped all 13 shots he faced, including a terrific pad save during a power play in the third period. Gendron said he wasn’t sure which goalie would start against Merrimack.
Sullivan said he was surprised to be called on.
“Marty’s been spectacular, nothing short of spectacular this entire season. His performances have just been inspiring for me and our team,” he said. “I think that the guys believe in the goaltenders that we have. It doesn’t matter who’s in the net. And that’s just a great thing.”
In the third period, Maine owned a 16-9 advantage on shots. Steven Swavely brought the Black Bears within 3-2 on a wrist shot at 3:39. Ryan Lomberg, who scored Maine’s first goal, was foiled by Gillies on two doorstep chances.
It was the theme of the weekend for Maine, which lost 4-2 on Friday. Providence blocked 31 shots in the two games, and the Black Bears sometimes looked hesitant on offense.
“They’re just a tough, battling team,” Lomberg said. “They’re a bunch of big guys that hit and move their feet pretty well.”
Providence earned the third seed and will host a quarterfinal series in two weeks. If Maine beats Merrimack, that would be its likely destination.
Maine swept Merrimack 2-1 and 3-2 in a bruising series three weeks ago. A win is not assured.
“We’re a resilient bunch of guys here,” Sullivan said. “I look forward to how we’re going to respond.”
Mark Emmert can be contacted at 791-6424 or at: