BOSTON — They had to win it twice.
The Northeastern Huskies held a 4-2 lead over top-ranked Wisconsin with less than two minutes to play. A Badgers power-play goal then brought them within one. A missed opportunity for a Northeastern dump-in followed by a brain-cramp icing opened the door. And with 15 seconds remaining, Jeff Dessner’s shot from the point hit a Husky in front and trickled through the crease past NU goaltender Mike Gilhooly for the gut-wrenching equalizer.
“I felt comfortable [then] that we were at least going to go home with a tie,” said Wisconsin coach Jeff Sauer.
This close to beating the No. 1 team. Just one more routine save. Just one more blocked shot. Just one more faceoff win. Just one more safe exit out of the defensive zone. Just one more dump-in to the offensive zone without an icing.
That’s all it would have taken. So close, but yet so far.
“I looked down that bench and not one of them blinked twice,” said NU captain Jim Fahey. “They knew what we had to do and did it.”
Having seen a sure win slip through their fingers, the Huskies regrouped and won it at 3:44 of overtime on a Scott Selig deflection of a Fahey shot.
“Maturity is one of the things we’re counting on this year,” said NU coach Bruce Crowder. “We gave up a really weak goal and could have folded the tent, but the kids rebounded and we went after them in the overtime.
“When you’re playing in your barn and it’s tied, you’ve got to go for broke. That’s what the guys did and we were able to come out successful.”
Northeastern moved to a 4-1 record and almost certain consideration in the national rankings.
“I thought we played a strong game,” said Crowder. “We competed well. We carried the play at times. It was a great, great win for our program.”
Sauer was complimentary after the loss, which dropped the Badgers to 7-1 and prevented them from setting a school record for the fastest all-time start to a season.
“They played us very smart,” he said. “They kept reversing the puck on us and took us out of our forecheck. They also did an excellent job of clogging up the neutral zone. We tried to make a lot of passes that just weren’t there tonight.
“It was a good game for us. We learned some things. I’d much rather lose tonight than win this one when maybe we didn’t deserve to win and then go into Minnesota next week [making the same mistakes].”
He then added with a grin, “because Minnesota and us are pretty good rivals.”
The game didn’t take long to move into high gear. Before it was even three minutes old, the score was already 1-1.
Northeastern grabbed a brief lead at 1:12 when sophomore Joe Mastronardi blocked a shot at the point and then went off to the races, beating Wisconsin goaltender Graham Melanson from just inside the faceoff circle.
Wisconsin evened the score at 2:50. Kent Davyduke picked off a poor Northeastern pass behind its own net and fed to an uncovered Matt Hussey in front. Hussey buried the golden opportunity for his third of the year.
Both teams received two power-play opportunities in the period, but only Northeastern’s second one, which started at 11:26, resulted in any significant scoring chances. However, that one, too, went without a score.
In the second period, Northeastern put the puck into the net three times to none for Wisconsin. Unfortunately for the Huskies, the third one was into their own goal.
Northeastern freshman Trevor Reschny scored his third of the year at 2:08 off a rebound of his own shot.
While playing four-on-four five minutes later, Fahey carried up the right wing and then dropped a pass to Mike Ryan. With Fahey cutting to the net, Ryan roofed a backhander over Melanson’s shoulder for a 3-1 lead.
Wisconsin’s Matt Murray, who had scored the game-winner shorthanded against Boston College one night earlier, got credit for a Badger goal at 17:25 that narrowed the gap to 3-2. Trying to center a pass from behind the net to linemate Erik Jensen in front, Murray put the puck onto NU defenseman Brian Sullivan’s stick. To his dismay, Sullivan attempted to swat it out of danger, but instead put it into his own net for a potentially tide-turning Badger goal.
The period ended with the Huskies owning a lopsided 23-12 shot advantage, but a precarious 3-2 lead.
The Badgers had their chances to even the game early in the third, most notably a partial breakaway by Dany Heatley and the resulting Northeastern penalty.
However, it would be the Huskies that would strike next. At 9:55, Graig Mischler fed Ryan inside the right faceoff circle and the sophomore sniper beat Melanson low for his seventh goal of the season and a 4-2 lead.
Northeastern took a too many men on the ice penalty at 11:38, apparently giftwrapping the beginnings of a Wisconsin comeback. The Badgers, however, could do nothing in the first half of the advantage and would eventually get only one blocked screened shot out of it.
As the game wound down, the Huskies were doing a good job of forcing Wisconsin to beat them for 200 feet, taking no chances and getting the puck deep as often as possible. However, a penalty at 17:35 gave the Badgers an opening and at 18:27 Heatley put in a rebound for the game’s only power-play goal.
Northeastern appeared to catch a big break just seconds later, though, when Hussey was whistled for interference on a highly effective, but illegal, pick that took out two Huskies. With Wisconsin needing to pull Melanson just to create an even-skaters situation, the Huskies’ job of running out the rest of the clock had presumably been made easier.
Dessner’s goal with 15 seconds left in regulation showed that the job hadn’t quite been as easy as envisioned.
Selig’s tip in overtime, though, made it all moot. The 4,033 at the Dog House would get to cheer the knocking off of a No. 1 after all.