The recent slide by the University of Maine men’s hockey team cost the Black Bears a bye in the Hockey East playoffs.

But Maine can take consolation in hosting a postseason series in Orono for the first time in six years.

Sixth-seeded Maine (16-14-3, 10-11-3 in Hockey East) plays No. 11 New Hampshire (10-18-6, 5-14-5) in a best-of-three series at Alfond Arena on Friday, Saturday and, if necessary, Sunday.

“We’re really excited to have a home series. It’s a great thing,” said Maine Coach Red Gendron.

“These are two programs that have enjoyed an intense rivalry, ever since Maine has had hockey. We’re playing our biggest rival, and I’m sure (they) feel the same way about us.”

Even though the Wildcats are on a horrendous skid – 1-13-5 in their last 19 games – they give Maine difficulty. All three games this season have gone to overtime, with two ties at Alfond Arena Jan. 19-20, and a 4-3 comeback win in OT by the Black Bears in Durham, New Hampshire, on Feb. 14.

“Every time we play, it’s a battle. We match up well,” said UNH Coach Dick Umile.

Umile, 69, is retiring after this year so his career could come to an end in Orono. If UNH is swept, this will the worst of Umile’s 28 seasons.

“Obviously, our season wasn’t a great one,” he said. “Frustrating. Overall, we’ve played hard, but had a difficult time scoring goals.”

Since beating Rensselaer 6-3 on Dec. 6, UNH is averaging only two goals a game.

If the Wildcats have any edge, it’s goaltending experience. Senior Daniel Tirone (2.69 goals-against average, .915 save percentage) has been through the playoffs before. Maine counters with freshman Jeremy Swayman (2.74 GAA, .920 save percentage).

Still, Swayman is one reason why Maine finally has escaped the Hockey East cellar.

“It all starts from the net out,” Umile said, “and I think Swayman’s been a big part of their turnaround.”

Maine has finished last and close to last the previous three years, losing in first-round playoff series on the road.

In 2014, the first round was only one game, and sixth-seeded Maine beat No. 11 Merrimack at Alfond Arena. The Black Bears then were swept at Providence College in the quarterfinals.

The last playoff series at Alfond was 2012, when No. 4 Maine beat No. 5 Merrimack in three games. That was the last time the Black Bears reached the semifinals, losing to Boston College in the title game at TD Garden.

Maine sat in fifth place much of the last two months. The fifth-place team gets a first-round bye, but then plays the quarterfinals on the road, at the No. 4 seed.

But the Black Bears went 1-5 in their last six games. The slide began with a 3-2 overtime loss to Merrimack on Feb. 3. Maine then lost at Providence, beat UNH (after trailing 3-1 in the third period), and lost three times to Boston College, which finished atop the standings.

“It’s any number of factors,” Gendron said of his team’s finish. “Some of it is the competition and, certainly, it’s us.”

While Maine struggled, Connecticut beat Boston University 5-4 in overtime on Feb. 16. The Huskies finished tied with Maine, with 23 points, but won the tiebreaker for fifth place because they had more conference wins.

Still, this has been an encouraging year for Maine, which has a chance for its first winning season since 2013-14.

“The season was decent for our team,” Gendron said. “We have a team that works hard and competes like crazy.

“We had some big wins. I’d like to think we grew an awful lot as a team. There are always ups and downs, and whatnot.

“I think our team is well prepared to enter the playoffs.”

If Maine takes the series this weekend, the Black Bears would play at No. 3 Providence next week in a best-of-three quarterfinal.

THE MAINE WOMEN have reached the Hockey East semifinals this weekend at Northeastern University’s Matthews Arena in Boston. The third-seeded Black Bears (19-13-5, 11-9-4) play No. 4 Northeastern (17-16-3, 11-11-2) at 4:30 p.m. Saturday.

In the other semifinal, No. 1 Boston College (30-3-3, 19-2-3) plays No. 7 Connecticut (18-13-9, 7-11-6). The winners play for the title at 1:30 p.m. Sunday.

The Black Bears experienced their first Hockey East playoff victories last weekend, taking 2 of 3 against Boston University. In the third game, Maine trailed 3-0 in the third period. But Brooke Stacey scored a hat trick in a 7-minute span to tie the game. In overtime, Stacey assisted Tereza Vanisova on the winning goal.

Vanisova, a sophomore from the Czech Republic, is Maine’s leading scorer with 16 goals and 29 assists.

Kevin Thomas can be reached at 791-6411 or:

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Twitter: @KevinThomasPPH