Turns out the late Eric Knodel goal that earned a 4-4 tie for No. 4-ranked New Hampshire against Maine on Saturday at the Whittemore Center, was not enough to salvage a tough weekend for the Wildcats.
When all the results were in on Saturday night, UNH had slipped to fifth place in Hockey East and must go on the road to face No. 4 Providence College in the quarterfinal round next weekend.
The Wildcats went into the weekend series at home against their bitter rival hoping to win the Hockey East regular season championship and needing two points to guarantee themselves a home series in the playoffs.
They came up with only one of the four available points, losing 4-3 on Friday night and then failing to close out Saturday’s game for a win.
“That’s the disappointing part of the weekend,” said UNH coach Dick Umile. “We had the opportunity to secure home ice and we didn’t do that.”
UNH played a 4 p.m. game on Saturday and the other league games were at 7 p.m. The Wildcats had to await the results of key games before they knew their playoff fate.
There were several scenarios that set UNH up for a home series next weekend.
But UMass-Lowell knocked off Providence, 4-1, to earn its first Hockey East regular season championship and Boston University beat Northeastern, 5-0, and those results left UNH, BU and Providence in a three-way tie for third place.
Based on head-to-head tiebreakers, BU was awarded the No. 3 seed, Providence No. 4 and UNH the No. 5.
UNH and Providence will play a best-of-three series starting on Friday night with the winner advancing to the Hockey East championship round at the TD Garden in Boston. The Friars won the season series against UNH with 6-5 and 1-0 wins and a 3-3 tie.
The Wildcats will hit the road for the quarterfinals for the second straight year. Last year, they fell in three games at Boston University. UNH had finished in the top four and earned a home series for 16 consecutive years before that.
The other Hockey East quarterfinals have No. 8 Maine at No. 1 UMass-Lowell, No. 7 Vermont at No. 2 Boston College and No. 6 Merrimack at BU.
“We just want to keep playing,” said Maine coach Tim Whitehead. “We think at this point we can play with anybody. We know we can play with anybody.”
UNH had not lost a game all season in which it led going into the third period.
UNH was up 3-2 entering the third on Saturday but needed the Knodel goal to get a tie.
“Obviously, we’re not too excited,” Umile said. “We had the opportunity to win it and gave it up in the third period. We’re not too pleased with that.”
The Wildcats finished the regular season with an overall record of 18-9-7 and were 13-8-6 in Hockey East.
Maine wrapped up 10-18-8 and 6-13-8.
The Black Bears scored a pair of goals in a span of 74 seconds early in the third period to grab a 4-3 lead.
Senior forward Joey Diamond tied it up, 3-3, at the 5:58 mark of the period. Freshman defenseman Conor Riley made it 4-3 Maine at 7:12.
Knodel, a junior defenseman, scored on a blast from out front on the power play.
Casey DeSmith, the sophomore from Rochester, made 32 saves for UNH.
Maine junior Martin Ouellete, who played at Kimball Union Academy, had 31 saves.
The teams scored four goals in the second period, two for each team, in a span of just under four minutes to turn a 1-0 UNH lead into the 3-2 advantage with 20 minutes to play.
Twice UNH went up by two goals and twice the Black Bears cut it back to a one-goal margin.
Wildcat freshman Maxim Gaudreault made it 2-0 with 5:54 left in the period. Joey Diamond answered for Maine. UNH’s Grayson Downing got that one back 32 seconds later for 3-1. Adam Shemansky’s goal cut it to 3-2 with 1:57 left in the period.
UNH senior forward Scott Pavelski converted a pass from Gaudreault to open the scoring with 4:01 left in the first period.
It was one shining senior moment on a Senior Night that would end in disappointing fashion.