BOSTON — One team moved to within a point of first place in Hockey East with a 6-2-1 record while the other was left only a point removed from the cellar at 2-6-1.
Despite that apparent tale of two teams, however, Boston University had to hold its breath in the final seconds while Northeastern threatened with an extra attacker before succumbing, 3-2.
Senior captain Mike Pandolfo scored goals in the first two periods while linemate Justin Maiser got the game-winner in the final minute of the second.
The contest marked an important kickoff of the second half league schedule for the two teams. Neither had participated in holiday tournaments, the only two Hockey East teams to abstain. BU was resuming play for the first time since splitting a two-game road trip to Nebraska-Omaha the weekend before Christmas. Northeastern was coming off a 5-3 loss to Union last Saturday.
“We weren’t game-sharp, that’s for sure,” said BU coach Jack Parker. “I thought we’d be a little sluggish because of the long layoff. We had our legs. I thought we were moving okay, but we weren’t making good plays. We gave them way too many jumps in the first two periods…. [But] any time you win on the road in this league, it’s a good win.”
With 13 points in the league standings, Boston University (12-4-1, 6-2-1 HEA) now trails New Hampshire by only a point after leapfrogging UMass-Lowell, which won a nonconference game over Colgate.
Northeastern (8-9-2, 2-6-1 HEA) had entered the game having won five of its last seven contests, but only one of those victories had been against Hockey East foes. The Huskies have now lost six of their last seven within the league.
Nonetheless, NU coach Bruce Crowder saw his team’s performance as a positive omen for the second half.
“Obviously you want the win,” he said, “but if the guys can give me what they gave me in this game over the next 17 games, I’m going to be pretty happy and we’re going to make some noise. The effort was there and the kids played well.”
Making reference to a spirited crowd of 4,372, he added, “Great atmosphere. No regrets.”
Northeastern had the early territorial edge as a result of receiving the first two power plays of the game. However, the Huskies failed to translate the advantage into many grade A chances.
BU, on the other hand, capitalized on its first power play when Pandolfo knocked in the rebound of a Freddie Meyer shot from the point at 14:16. It marked Pandolfo’s 13th goal, tops on the Terriers, and the 11th game of 17 this season in which he’d scored.
By the end of the period, BU had more than overcome Northeastern’s early edge, finishing with an 11-5 shot advantage and the 1-0 lead.
The Terriers also went into the locker room on the power play, but when the second period opened, the Huskies countered with two strong shorthanded chances. Leon Hayward threatened from the doorstep early; near the end of the penalty, Trevor Reschny broke in only to be thwarted by an excellent diving breakup by Meyer.
The cross-town rivals swapped chances as the second period developed until Pandolfo struck again at 15:21. Much like his first goal, if not most of those throughout his career, the tally provided little razzle-dazzle for the highlight reel, but rather gritty, workmanlike persistence. Goaltender Keni Gibson made the initial stop, but with his defenseman diving around the crease to block the net while he searched for the loose puck, Pandolfo fished it loose and put it into the back of the net.
A minute and a half later, Northeastern made it a 2-1 game on a Chris Lynch shot through a screen that BU netminder Sean Fields appeared not to see.
At 19:13, however, Brian McConnell sprung Maiser with a home-run pass that threaded through the neutral ice, splitting the NU defense, until Maiser collected it inside the blue line and broke in all alone. The freshman deked to the left and stuffed it around Gibson for the 3-1 lead.
The Terriers finished the period with a 14-7 shot advantage, amounting to a 23-12 mark over 40 minutes, but the ratio of quality opportunities had been considerably more even.
At 11:43 of the third period, Jared Mudryk again made it a one-goal game after Lynch broke up the left wing, cut in and put the puck on the net. Fields made the stop, but in the resulting action around the net, he rolled over to cover the puck in the crease, but inadvertently put it in himself.
Little more than a minute later, BU freshman David Klema apparently roofed a shot into the top of the net for an important insurance goal, but despite the near unanimous press box opinion that it had been a goal, neither the referee nor goal judge gave the signal and play continued on.
As time wore down, Northeastern pressed for the equalizer. With 10 seconds remaining, the Huskies had a glittering setup in front, but the puck slid underneath the potential scorer’s stick and out of the zone.
The teams play the other end of the home-and-home series on Sunday afternoon at Walter Brown Arena. Boston University could be adding Gregg Johnson, Ryan Whitney and Frantisek Skladany to the lineup as they return from the World Junior Championships.