BOSTON — Until overtime, it was the proverbial game that could have gone either way. In OT, however, Northeastern got the puck into the Maine zone early and kept it there until Eric Ortlip’s move to the net forced a holding penalty.
On the power play, the Huskies got the game-winner at 2:31 on a Chris Lynch shot from the doorstep following a centering pass by Jason Guerriero. It was their fifth shot in overtime.
“There was a shot from the point and Guerriero and I both went to the net for the puck,” said Lynch. “He got there first with the puck. I just backed off to position myself for a good shooting spot, which the coach had been telling me to do. I was calling for it and [Guerriero] got it to me.
“It was a huge win for us.”
The power-play goal was Northeastern’s second of the night in seven chances. By comparison, Maine enjoyed only three man-advantage situations, a point not lost on coach Tim Whitehead.
“The penalties hurt us,” he said. “We’ve been excellent with our penalty minutes since Christmas. It’s our number one objective for the second half of the year and we’ve been excellent at it, but I think it cost us the game today.
“They’ve got a great power play [22.6 percent overall, 21.3 in Hockey East, good for second in the league]. If a team has a good power play, you can’t give them a lot of opportunities like that.
“People can say all they want about how they should have called this or that against Northeastern, but I don’t care about that at this point. The bottom line is that we’ve got to stay out of the penalty box.”
Goaltender Mike Morrison played very well in defeat, stopping 33-of-35 shots, including several labeled attempts late in the game. His Northeastern counterpart, Keni Gibson, also impressed, making saves on all but one of 25 shots.
The contest proved to be a much stronger played defensive one than the 8-4 victory for Maine at Alfond Arena back in November.
“Gibson obviously played well, but I didn’t think we got to the net,” said Whitehead. “I don’t think we drove the net well without the puck. I don’t think we drove the net with the puck, which is something that we’ve done pretty consistently this year. That hurt us.
“We didn’t get a lot of those second and third opportunities that we’d been getting this year.”
While 11th-ranked Maine (11-7-3, 5-3-1 HEA) missed out on a chance to secure fourth place in the league all to itself, Northeastern (10-9-2, 4-6-1) moved into a tie with Providence for sixth and holds a game in hand.
“I like this team; I like the way they play,” said NU coach Bruce Crowder. “The thing that’s nice about this team is that we’ve got a bunch of guys who are accepting what their roles are. They’re not complaining about it. They know that all different kind of roles make up a hockey team and that’s been excellent for us.
“If you look at the play of [Brian] Tudrick, [Leon] Hayward and [Trevor] Reschny, they pretty much went head-to-head with [Martin] Kariya’s line most of the night and they maybe had as many chances as those guys did.”
Northeastern had the better opportunities in a scoreless first period, but Maine was still able to extend to six games its streak of not allowing a goal in the opening frame. The Huskies held a 13-9 shot advantage.
The Black Bears’ first opportunity was an exceptional one, a partial breakaway by Tom Reimann, but the junior had to fend off a persistent backchecker and could not beat Gibson.
By the 8:30 mark, the strong chances had been few and far between, but then a Maine four-on-two rush threatened. However, Colin Shields, the team’s top goalscorer with 18 on the season, missed the net with his shot.
At 9:26, Northeastern went on a power play, the only one until the final seconds of the period, but the Huskies failed to generate a shot.
However, they would soon be taking several high-quality shots. Tudrick set up Reschny on a two-on-one down low, but Morrison made the save. Seconds later, Lynch’s backhanded pass in the neutral zone sent in Jared Mudryk for another tester that Morrison stopped.
Minutes later, the senior netminder again had to be sharp on an Ortlip backhander.
Power plays dominated the second period; more than half of it was spent on five-on-four advantages. In essence, both sides capitalized once, although Maine’s goal came one second after a penalty expired so it technically came at even strength.
Maine’s John Ronan hit the crossbar at the 3:00 mark, but the game remained scoreless until Prestin Ryan broke the ice with a slapshot from the point just after a man advantage had elapsed.
Two minutes later, Northeastern’s Mike Ryan tied the game, 1-1, while a man up, scoring off a sniper’s special. From a sharp angle, he roofed it short side for his 15th of the year.
The highlight of a high-intensity third period came at 14:20. Mudryk set up Ortlip on the weak side post for what appeared to be an automatic goal, but Morrison responded with the save of the night.
Soon after, Morrison made another potential game-saver, this one on Lynch with the Black Bears once again shorthanded.
In overtime, the two would meet again, this time with Lynch and the Huskies coming out on top.
The two teams face off again at Matthews Arena on Saturday night.