ORONO – Keith Johnson can’t put it above a National Championship victory on his resume, but Friday’s game-winner in overtime ranked pretty high on his list nonetheless.

When he wristed a shot from the right circle, it glanced off the crossbar and into the net to lift Maine to a 4-3 come-from-behind win over the University of Massachusetts-Lowell in the first game of the Hockey East quarterfinals.

“For me personally, it had to be the biggest personal experience,” said Johnson of his overtime tally. “That’s the first one in my career. I might have done it in juniors once, but it definitely feels good to do it here. It’s been awhile. I’ve had chances lately, but the breaks haven’t been going for me.”

Johnson’s fifth goal 51 seconds into overtime gives Maine a chance to complete the sweep of the River Hawks Saturday night at 7 p.m. and advance to Friday’s semifinals at the T.D. Banknorth Garden.

“It was an exciting game,” said Maine coach Tim Whitehead. “A little too exciting for the coaches. There was a lot of action and a little bit of everything in the game. It was exactly what we expected. Lowell’s playing great right now, and we’re playing pretty well.”

The game-winner came off a line change. Billy Ryan took a pass from Michel Leveille and motored into the zone. He dropped a pass back for Johnson at the right circle.

“Billy took the defenseman wide,” said Johnson. “I just called for it. He gave me a drop pass. I didn’t even aim it. I just shot it.”

The numbers didn’t favor Lowell coming into the game. The River Hawks had not won at Alfond Arena since 2001, going 0-11-1 during that stretch. Also, the No. 2 seed in the Hockey East quarterfinal has never advanced and a third game has only been needed once in the pairing between the No. 2 and 7 seeds..

Early in the third period, though, it looked as though Lowell might alter that history. A Nick Monroe goal early put the River Hawks ahead, but Maine had a pair of power play chances and made good on the second. Greg Moore netted his second of the game, putting in a Derek Damon pass at the right post with 10:09 left in the game. Damon kicked a pass with his skates to an open Moore.

“We had a lot of power plays,” said Moore. “We were kind of struggling, but as the game went on, we felt a little more comfortable. We were starting to make better plays, and we just tried to get the puck to the net.”

Maine had three power plays to start the game but could muster just five total shots and found themselves in a 1-0 hole.

Lowell scored short-handed at 8:47. Jason Tejchma stole the puck in the neutral zone, skated past a Maine defender and tucked a backhanded by Brad Bishop.

Maine got that goal back with 6:40 left in the period. Moore’s shot from the right post was deflected in by Lowell defender Matt Collar. It was Moore’s team-leading 24th goal of the year and the 100th point of his Maine career, just the 45th Black Bear to reach that milestone.

Maine made it 2-1 with 2:27 left. Damon popped in a rebound at the left post.

The Black Bears outshot Lowell 15-7 in the second period and had two early tries on the power play but failed to add to its lead.

“I thought in the first and second periods we had the opportunity to expand the lead,” said Whitehead. “Lowell did an excellent job of blocking shots. (Peter) Vetri made some big stops. I didn’t feel we did a great job of getting to the net early in the game. So we didn’t give ourselves as many second and third chances as we got in the third period. As a result, we didn’t expand the lead, and left the door open for them to take the lead.”

The River Hawks managed to tie the game with just 48 seconds left in the period.

Bobby Robins shot from the right circle was redirected by Jeremy Hall past a screened Bishop.

Then just 24 seconds after a Lowell power play ended, the River Hawks took the lead with Monroe’s first of the season at 2:24.


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