Maybe their loss last Friday will help the University of Maine Black Bears, as they near the end of their men’s hockey schedule.

Maine has five games left in the regular season, including a home weekend series tonight and Saturday against Massachusetts.

Win these five games and the Black Bears will have a top-four finish in Hockey East and home-ice for the best-of-3 quarterfinal series in the league tournament.

Maine (17-9-3, 12-8-2 in Hockey East) is nationally ranked (eighth in the Pairwise ratings) and will be favored in all five games — all of them against teams with losing records, including UMass (10-13-5, 6-11-4).

But five wins is hardly a gimme.

“Any team in Hockey East, you have to battle with everything you got,” Maine goalie Dan Sullivan said. “It showed (last Friday) when we didn’t do that and we paid for it.”

Yes, about last Friday … Maine played another team with a losing record, Providence.

The Black Bears fell behind 3-0 and ended up losing 4-3 to the Friars.

Maine came back to knock off league-leader UMass-Lowell 2-1 on Saturday.

Lesson learned?

“We played for the full 60 (minutes),” forward Matt Mangene said.

Mangene and his teammates can sense the postseason.

“We know these next five games will determine where we stand in the playoffs, and in the Pairwise,” he said. “We have to focus for the next five games. It’s playoff hockey from here on out.”

UMass is another one of those dangerous teams that can pop up any time and beat you. The Minutemen were sliding on a four-game losing streak when they visited Boston University last Friday, and upset the Terriers 3-2.

Maine has played UMass twice, tying the Minutemen 2-2 in a league game last November in Amherst, and beating them 5-2 in a Florida tournament in December.

That 5-2 game demonstrated a UMass weakness — defense, especially on the penalty kill. Maine was 3-for-7 on the power play.

Maine continues to be led by the top line of Spencer Abbott, Brian Flynn and Joey Diamond, although other lines are beginning to come through.

Abbott leads Hockey East with 49 points. Flynn is second (40) and Diamond is tied for fourth (31) with a group which includes UMass senior forward T.J. Syner.

Sullivan ranks seventh in the league in goals-against average (2.70) and save percentage (.905), while UMass freshman Kevin Boyle is ninth (3.23/.892).

Massachusetts will be motivated. The Minutemen are currently tied with Northeastern for the eighth and final league playoff spot with 16 points.

Maine, with 26 points, is tied for fourth place, but can move up the standings with two wins, because the other top four teams are playing each other. UMass-Lowell (28 points) plays a series with BU (27), while Boston College (27) and Merrimack (26) will tussle.

Notes: Flynn, Diamond and defenseman Will O’Neill were among 21 players named as semifinalists for the Walter Brown Award, given to the top American-born player in college hockey. Also named was BC defenseman Brian Dumoulin of Biddeford.

 


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