BOSTON — Northeastern moved into fourth place in Hockey East with a hard-fought, blue collar victory over Providence Friday, 3-2. Winning more than their share of the battles for loose pucks and playing much more solid defense, the Huskies extended their record in the last eight games to 6-1-1.
In doing so, Northeastern (14-10-3, 8-7-2 HEA) moved into fourth place in Hockey East with 18 points. An inactive UMass-Lowell, however, trails by only one point and holds two games in hand.
The Huskies controlled much of the play territorially, outattempting PC, 77-48, with actual shots on net showing a 38-25 advantage. Nonetheless, Providence needed only one goal to send the game into overtime and generated tremendous pressure in the final seconds with an extra attacker. However, goaltender Keni Gibson made his best saves of the night as the clock ticked down to secure the Husky win.
“I thought we played a pretty good hockey game except for maybe five minutes in the second period when our shifts got a little longer and our intensity level dropped,” said NU coach Bruce Crowder. “But going [into the third period] 3-2, I thought we kept the pressure on them and didn’t sit back. Gibson made the saves when we had to get the saves.
“We played a smart third period. We dumped it in when he had to, made them come 200 feet. I’m very happy with the way they played.”
Mike Ryan’s breakaway goal midway through the second period, set up by a great pass by freshman defenseman Jon Awe, had given Northeastern a 3-1 margin at the time and stood up as the game-winner.
“The [Providence] defense pinched at the blue line and I was coming off the bench on a line change,” said Ryan. “I saw Jon Awe and gave him a quick yap and he fortunately he feathered one nice and soft.
“He had to saucer it a little bit to get it off the ice. I couldn’t ask for a better pass. I pretty much had the blue line in.
“[Providence goaltender Nolan Schaefer] is pretty good laterally. He stuffed me a couple times earlier, so I just tried to get it on my backhand and get it up there.”
Even so, Providence’s flurry in the closing seconds threatened to reprise Northeastern’s frustrating loss to UMass-Amherst last Saturday, when a late lead evaporated and what had appeared a decisive win became an overtime loss.
With 15 seconds remaining, Peter Fregoe hit the post with Gibson trying to close an open short side. Then with just seven seconds on the clock, the netminder’s stacked pads save thwarted Drew Omicioli’s attempt.
“I was thinking [Fregoe] was going to shoot right away, but he bobbled it and he kind of pulled back and I had to reach,” said Gibson. “Luckily, it hit the outside of the post.
“I picked up the wraparound [attempt] so I was there, but it bounced right out to the guys who can shoot. I just came out as far as I could and stacked [my pads] because there were two players there and [Omicioli] couldn’t deke on either side. I reacted, kicked it up and luckily it fell on top of me.
“There was a big scramble and everybody was hoping it was under me and not in the net.”
As a result, Providence (12-13-3, 7-8-1 HEA), which had won three in a row, missed out on an opportunity to leapfrog the Huskies in the standings and now stands three points back with a game in hand.
“We had our chances, but we didn’t shoot the puck near enough,” said PC coach Paul Pooley. “We got away from our game plan and didn’t get the puck in deep as much as we needed to.
“We were in the position to win that game, but it’s another learning experience.
“Hey, they beat us tonight. Give [Northeastern] credit. It was a huge game for both teams, but we’ve got to put it behind us and focus on the game [on Saturday] because that’s our game in hand.”
The win give Northeastern the rubber game in the season’s series, 2-1. Providence had swept, 3-0, the previous two years.
Northeastern held a clear territorial advantage in a first period that would become typical of the entire game, outattempting Providence, 27-16. Additionally, the Huskies generated the preponderance of grade A opportunities. The two teams, however, emerged deadlocked, 1-1, with the Huskies holding a more modest 14-10 edge in shots.
At 4:17, Northeastern went on a 42-second, five-on-three power play. A minute later, with one Friar defender back on the ice, Jason Guerriero put a shot through a screen that beat Schaefer. It was the playmaking center’s seventh goal.
Midway through the period, Providence went on a five-on-three of its own, this one lasting 1:23, but could not capitalize. In fact, the Friars surrendered a shorthanded breakaway to Leon Hayward, but Schaefer made the save.
Providence bounced back at 18:11 on a Doug Wright deflection of a Jeff Mason shot from the point to make it 1-1.
The second period saw more of the same, except that the Huskies fared better on the scoreboard. Another modest edge in shots, 11-7, belied their 28-14 domination in attempts.
At 3:44, Chris Lynch made it 2-1, taking a pass from Jaron Herriman and quick-releasing a backhand shot that handcuffed Schaefer.
Little more than a minute later, the Huskies appeared to have taken a two-goal lead, but referee John Gravellese ruled that it had been kicked in during a scrum in front of the net.
At 11:25, Awe sprung Ryan for the eventual game-winning breakaway, but Providence narrowed the margin to 3-2 at 17:20. Michael Lucci redirected a Jon DiSalvatore shot and the puck broke through Gibson.
In the third period, Providence generated its best sustained action by far in the final three minutes, but could not get the equalizer despite pulling Schaefer with 1:22 remaining.
“I thought the one thing we didn’t do well was we kind of candy-a**ed the passes at times when they had the goalie pulled,” said Crowder. “That’s not the time to do it. It’s got to be up off the glass. At that stage of the game, you’ve got to move the puck out with some diligence and I don’t think we did that.”
The Huskies survived the cliffhanger, however, giving Gibson his 11th win, tying him for the school’s freshman record for goaltender wins.
Providence now travels to UMass-Amherst for a Saturday night contest; Northeastern faces Harvard on Monday night in the Beanpot.