James Philpott of the Maine Nordiques scores a power play goal against Maryland goaltender Hannes Kollen during the first period of Game 1 of the NAHL East Division final at The Colisee in Lewiston on Friday, June 4, 2021. Ron Morin photo

LEWISTON — The Maine Nordiques once again turned a solid start into a playoff victory.

The second-seeded Nordiques scored two first-period goals in a 4-1 victory over the No. 4 Maryland Black Bears on Friday in Game 1 of the North American Hockey League East Division final at The Colisee.

“It’s been a staple of this team throughout the playoffs, we have had good starts,” Nordiques coach Nolan Howe said. “A lot has to do with it with the (team’s) preparation, they know the game plan and they are excited to get out and compete, show them what they are made of.”

The Nordiques are two wins away from being one of four NAHL division winners to play in the Robertson Cup in Blaine, Minnesota, from June 18-22.

Black Bears coach Clint Mylymok said that his team didn’t execute well enough Friday, especially on the power play, on which Maryland went 0-for-2 in the game.

“This time of the year, it’s nothing (the Nordiques are doing on the penalty kill) that we haven’t seen,” Mylymok said. “It comes down to execution and literally putting the puck in the back of the net. A few times on the bench, guys were by themselves and they were worried about moving the puck instead of launching the puck towards the net. (Maine’s first goal) was a total fluke, but what they did was shoot the puck and they got the ricochet.”

The Nordiques capitalized on an early power play in the first period. Defenseman Luke Antonacci had two great chances and then, nearly six minutes into the game, fellow defenseman James Philpott fired a shot into the net to give Maine a 1-0 lead. The goal was set up by forwards Isaiah Fox and Tyler Gaulin.

Antonacci finally found the back of the net nearly seven minutes, beating Maryland’s goalie Hannes Kollen (25 saves) with a shot above the blocker for a 2-0 lead. Forwards Patrick Schmiedlin and Tristan Fasig had the assists.

Maryland’s Josh Nixon tries to get a stick on Maine’s James Philpott as Philpott clears the zone during the Nordiques’ 4-1 win Friday, June 4, in Game 1 of the NAHL East Division final at The Colisee in Lewiston. Ron Morin photo

With defenseman Casper Soderling out of the lineup since May 1, Antonacci has been taking on added responsibilities.

“I definitely feel like I have improved as a player,” Antonacci said. “Casper is a big loss, luckily I scored a few goals this postseason, that has (made me feel) good.”

Antonacci has two goals and an assist in six games in the playoffs.

Both Philpott’s and Antonacci’s goals came from approximately the identical spot at the right circle.

“It just happened to be that way,” Howe said. “One from a rush — Antonacci’s was off a rush, which was a kick and drive, which we work every single day in practice; it was a great job (by Antonacci) getting up in the play — and Philpott’s, a little bit of a broken play on the power play. A shot got blocked and bounced over to him. He has shown all year, he’s dynamite on the power play.”

Maryland got on the board when forward Josh Nixon’s shot from slot beat Nordiques goalie Tyriq Outen (23 saves) with 3:50 remaining in the first period.

Nixon had another great chance, from point-blank range, early in the second period, but Outen stopped the shot with a sprawling right pad save. After Outen covered the puck for a whistle, Nixon “tipped his cap” by tapping Outen’s pads.

Matthew Connor of the Maine Nordiques and Jude Kurtas of the Maryland Black Bears watch a loose puck soar during the first period of Friday’s playoff game at The Colisee in Lewiston. Ron Morin photo

The Nordiques had opportunities to extend the lead in the second period but couldn’t convert them into goals. Gaulin had a partial breakaway, but his shot missed the net. Fasig also had a partial breakaway, but Kollen made the save. Stefan Owens’ shot from the left circle also was stopped.

Maine’s Aidan Connolly, who missed on a breakaway chance earlier in the third period, slid the puck into the empty net with under two minutes remaining in the game. Caden Pattison added an empty-net goal in the final seconds to push the advantage to 4-1.

The teams meet for Game 2 at the Colisee on Saturday at 7 p.m.

“Captain (Jack) Strauss said it in the locker room, we got to play like we lost in Game 1.” Antonacci said. “We have to come out strong and step up. (Maryland) obviously knows that wasn’t their best game and we know it wasn’t their best game either. They beat (No. 1-seeded) Johnstown (Tomahawks), they are a great team.”

TRAINED EYES: A few NCAA Division I coaches — from Long Island University, Mercyhurst, and Northeastern — were in attendance Friday night. The college recruiting dead period due to the coronavirus pandemic ended June 1.


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