BOSTON — It was college hockey’s equivalent of Lucy pulling the football out from under Charlie Brown.
After grabbing a 2-0 lead in the first period, No. 13 Providence let the Dog House of Matthews Arena come alive Saturday night, as No. 10 Northeastern clawed back in with goals in the second and third period.
But the fighting Friars proved they were tantalizing the Huskies when Marc Suderman scored two goals in the final 14 seconds of the game, to snatch a 4-2 victory from defeat and gain a sweep of the two-game, weekend series with Northeastern.
“That was a little bit of a barn-burner,” Providence coach Paul Pooley understated. “We bent but we didn’t break. I told the guys going into the third that we had 20 minutes of hockey to play, and that we should feel good about ourselves going into the third period.”
Suderman’s heroics came after Northeastern began to break up ice in the final minute of the period. After a turnover at the offensive blue line, Providence transitioned, with Jon DiSalvatore and J.J. Picinic getting the original shots on Northeastern goalie Jason Braun (30 saves).
Moving hard to the net, Suderman banked the second rebound attempt off of a desperate Braun and just inside the right post with 14 ticks left on the clock.
Suderman followed that with a second goal, capitalizing on Northeastern attempt at one last rush, stealing a pass and burying a high shot with three seconds remaining.
“There are going to be days like this,” Northeastern coach Bruce Crowder said. “It’s a 2-2 game are we’re breaking up ice. Next thing you know, they’re coming back at you and the guy puts in a rebound.”
Both teams got excellent goaltending in the game. Friars netminder Boyd Ballard (39 saves) kept his club in the game early when the Huskies pounded the Northeastern net with 31 shots through two periods. His counterpart Braun also held tough in the third period, stopping shot after shot after the Huskies had tied the game.
If Northeastern could take a positive out of a game like this, Crowder said it is the improvement of his offense from Friday night’s series opener, which the Huskies dropped, 3-1.
“We were a heck of a lot better tonight than last night,” Crowder said. “We put 57 attempts on net through two periods, so something is working. We just want more goals than we’re getting.”
Especially since the Northeastern offense has pretty much dictated the team’ s success.
In the first five games, the Huskies’ offense averaged 4.6 goals per game, with a 4-1-0 record through the stretch. Over the last five games, which has produced a 1-3-1 record, Northeastern’s production has dropped to 2.1 goals per game.
Though Northeastern controlled possession and most of the offensive play in the first period, the Huskies still trailed, 2-0, at the end. The reason was a combination of Ballard’s play, Northeastern’s offensive struggles and Providence’s Picinic, who notched both PC goals in the frame.
Picinic, who entered this season with just two goals, has scored seven this season, accounting for almost all of his point production (seven goals, two assists). Saturday night, Picinic added two assists to his first-period goals to figure in all four Friar goals.
The Friars’ first tally came on the power play, as Picinic received a perfect drop pass from Adam Lee that he one-timed off of Braun’s catching glove and into the net at 8:38.
Northeastern came within an inch of tying the game at 11:50, when Ryan Dudgeon’s deflection clanged sharply off the intersection of the crossbar and right post.
With 43 seconds remaining, Picinic scored his second, this time the beneficiary of open ice on a rush down the right side. Picinic’s hard wrist shot landed just inside the right post to give the Friars the 2-0 lead through one.
Northeastern outshot the Friars, 18-9, in the first period, but more importantly, out-attempted them, 32-12. But with five of the Huskies shots missing the net, eight blocked by defensemen and one off the pipe, the Northeastern offense was held off the board.
The second period saw a similar imbalance of power, as Northeastern outshot the Friars, 13-4. As Ballard continued to stand strong, it seemed only appropriate that Northeastern would get on the scoreboard while Ballard’s net was empty.
Huskies center Joe Mastronardi caught Ballard off-guard while playing the puck behind the net. The senior tender lost the puck to Mastronardi, who wheeled back in front of the net to push home the unassisted tally at 4:05 to pull Northeastern within a goal.
Unlike the first period, which saw a total of seven power plays, three for Providence and four for Northeastern, the second frame saw just one man advantage apiece, allowing the game to gain flow.
The score remained 2-1 for the early portions of the third before the Huskies scored on the power play. Chris Lynch fired home the rebound of Scott Selig’s shot from in close to even the game, sending the crowd of 3,307 into a frenzy.
But from that point, the Friars’ offense turned around. Providence pressured the Northeastern net, and generated nearly double the shots in the third period (21) as they had in the first two (11).
“I was wondering if we were a little tired,” said Crowder, “but I tried to keep rolling four lines down the stretch.
“Some nights you play well and catch the breaks, but some nights you play well and don’t.”
The win, coupled with No. 2 Boston College’s 3-1 loss to No. 9 New Hampshire, catapulted the Friars into first place in Hockey East with a 4-1-1 record (7-2-1 overall). Northeastern dropped to 2-3-1 in the league (5-4-1 overall).
Providence will spend Thanksgiving traveling in preparation for two games out West, vs. Colorado College on Friday and Denver on Saturday. Northeastern will play a single game at home next weekend against St. Cloud State.