BOSTON — A win is a win is a win.
That’s what Northeastern coach Bruce Crowder had to be telling himself after his Huskies emerged from a downward spiral with a 4-2 victory over UMass-Amherst. In truth, it was an unattractive, if not ugly, win in a game filled with 30 penalties and 92 penalty minutes.
However, nobody at Matthews Arena was calculating style points after having posted an 0-4-2 record in the last six league games and falling into eighth place. Northeastern (8-8-3, 3-5-3 HEA) leapfrogged both UMass-Amherst (5-14-2, 4-7-0 HEA) and UMass-Lowell into sixth place with the win.
“It was a game we had to win and we found a way to win,” said Crowder. “I don’t think it was pretty.
“I thought Amherst played extremely hard, but I think probably we got a little better goaltending than they got tonight.”
Mike Gilhooly finished with 37 saves on 39 shots for the win. Amazingly, it became the sophomore’s first league victory this season despite entering the contest with a 1.73 goals against average and a .933 save percentage. His league record now stands at 1-2-3.
For Gilhooly’s counterpart in the UMass nets, Markus Helanen, the game marked an improvement from last weekend’s disaster against Providence, but still another sub-par performance.
“Markus battled tonight … but he didn’t have much puck luck,” said UMass coach Don “Toot” Cahoon.
“It’s been frustrating for us because even when we’ve played fairly well and gotten off to a decent start, we’ve come off the ice behind.”
That proved true again on this evening. Just 2:57 into the game, it looked like more poor goaltending when John Peterman scored off a slapshot from outside the zone. Although the shot deflected off a defenseman, the carom took place at the blue line, which should have given Helanen sufficient time to adjust.
The Minutemen soon had opportunities on the power play to erase the deficit. Despite good puck movement setting up several weak-side post chances, they couldn’t convert.
Midway through the period, the Huskies threatened when Mike Ryan threaded a pass through traffic to Scott Selig alone 15 feet in front of the net. Selig deked, but Helanen made a nice stop.
The Huskies took a 2-0 lead anyway at 11:55. Joe Mastronardi centered the puck and, with it sitting in the crease, Matt Keating whiffed, but Ryan Dudgeon knocked it in.
The Minutemen followed with three excellent chances within half a minute to narrow the gap. A bad pinch by defenseman Joe Mancuso allowed a Brad Nizwantowski and Darcy King two-on-one. Nizwantowski shot, but Gilhooly made the stop.
Off the resulting faceoff, Sammy Jalkanen’s shot from the point, and its rebound caromed to Kris Wallis. With an open net but a defender draped all over him, Wallis couldn’t get a handle on the loose puck.
Three proved to be the charm, as play transitioned into the other zone only to result in a Wallis breakaway pass to Martin Miljko, who then broke in on Gilhooly, deked and scored.
With the second period opening with a 2-1 Northeastern lead, the Huskies needed only 1:54 to reestablish a two-goal margin. Defenseman Jim Fahey carried the puck into the slot and shot along the ice. Helanen made the save, but Willie Levesque knocked in the rebound.
Within two minutes, eight roughing penalties were assessed, four to a side, as play around the nets and after the whistle turned chippy. During one such stretch, the goal light went on, signifying a Northeastern goal, and then off, but the play was ruled no goal and two more bodies were escorted to the penalty box.
At 2:08 of the third, Chris Lynch made it 4-1 when he walked out from behind the net unmolested and stuffed his shot past Helanen.
At 14:06 UMass got a too-little-too-late goal on the power play for the final 4-2 margin. Thomas Pock’s shot from the point went through traffic and beat Gilhooly high. It ended a streak dating back to Dec. 3 that had seen Northeastern kill 27 straight penalties. The goal was also Pock’s first in eight games.
The two teams meet again on Saturday, this time at the Mullins Center in Amherst.
“We have an opportunity to get four points out of the weekend in Hockey East,” said Crowder. “That doesn’t happen very often and it isn’t going to be easy out there.”