ORONO — We’ll find out tonight if the Maine hockey team has grown at all this season.

Coming off an excruciating overtime loss to the defending national champions at Alfond Arena, the young Black Bears must somehow find a way to muster a better effort in the 7 p.m. rematch.

And this is the precise situation that has vexed Maine throughout the winter. The Black Bears have never followed a loss with a win in 11 previous two-game series. Not once.

Can they find a way to do it against a much more experienced No. 6 Providence College team that fired 51 shots on goal last night before finally getting one past Matt Morris 2:13 into overtime.

That 1-0 loss, in which Maine competed so hard, could be a late-season turning point, but only if the Black Bears come out even stronger tonight.

“They had chances in flurries. We defended very well and we battled real hard,” Maine Coach Red Gendron said after Friday’s game.

“It’s not just the last play. Obviously, that’s the freshest thing in our minds. It was a 62-minute and 13-seconds game. So there were lots of opportunities to make plays to score goals during the course of the game, to make better plays.”

Maine put a season-low 19 shots on Providence goaltender Nick Ellis. That needs to improve, for sure. But the Black Bears did a terrific job of limiting the quality of the Friars’ shots, if not the quantity. Morris vacuumed up the rest in one of his strongest performances to date. Maine helped by taking only two penalties, killing both off.

But opening games of series have not been the biggest issue with Maine. The Black Bears have been oustcored only 29-27 in those.

It’s been the series finales that have produced some ugly results.

The scores in second games of series? Opponents 41, Maine 17. Yuck.

And that includes three games that Maine won, all after also prevailing in the series openers.

Are the Black Bears front-runners? Unable to cope with adversity? Lacking mental toughness?

Gendron laughed off the suggestion that he was concerned about a letdown after such a dispiriting defeat when I asked him about it Friday night.

“Hangover? I won’t be drinking tonight. But you know what I’ll buy you a bottle of scotch if you want to drink,” Gendron generously offered, before turning serious.

“No, I’m not worried about anything negative. We’ve been through too much.”

Have they been through enough to turn things around tonight?

We’ll soon find out.

 


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