BOSTON — Quinnipiac put out a solid defensive effort and got spectacular goaltending on Saturday night, but came up just short of pulling off the ultimate upset, falling, 2-1, to Northeastern in front of a hostile crowd of 3,259 at Matthews Arena.
The Bobcats hoped to become the first MAAC team to win a nonconference game against a Hockey East club and pushed the Huskies to the brink, holding level through 55 minutes of a hard-hitting and exciting hockey game.
But Donny Grover’s one-time blast of a Jared Mudryk pass with 6:11 remaining beat Quinnipiac netminder Jamie Holden (35 saves) to give NU the victory.
The win for NU snapped a three-game losing streak, something that, no matter how it came, was a positive for head coach Bruce Crowder.
“I’ll take it,” said Crowder, who noted that the game was “frustrating” with NU struggling to take control despite outshooting Quinnipiac, 37-19.
“After the second period, we’re saying, ‘Oh my God, we’re tied one to one,’” said Crowder. “As coaches we were very positive and told the guys to they’re playing great.
“We just wanted them to go out and play a good third period and I thought our third period was our best of the night.”
Indeed, the final frame was the Huskies’ top, outshooting QU, 11-4. Despite that fact, though, the Huskies easily could have trailed. Two power plays combined with a clear-cut chance that Quinnipiac’s Ryan Morton pushed wide from 10 feet with 12 minutes remaining kept the game even at one.
“I thought we hung in [the game] pretty well,” said Quinnipiac head coach Rand Pecknold. “We made some critical mistake from an offensive standpoint in that we couldn’t finish our chances. When you get chances, you have to finish.”
Though Quinnipiac’s offensive inabilities might have been frustrating to Pecknold, his club’s special-teams play was a bright light and nearly was the difference in the game. Quinnipiac’s penalty kill unit denied all six Northeastern power plays, including a 67-second five-on-three in the first period. At the same time, the Bobcats’ only goal came with the man advantage.
“We’ve actually struggled with our [penalty kill] this year; it hasn’t been up to where it to be,” said Pecknold. “Tonight we did a good job. Certainly your best penalty killer is your goaltender and I thought Jamie [Holden] did a great job.”
Though many thought the first period would be simply survival for Quinnipiac, the Bobcats proved they could skate with the Huskies early, hemming them in then defensive zone at times, though unable to generate any high-quality scoring opportunities.
Holden, on the shelf since November 8 with a leg injury, looked sharp early, particularly during the Northeastern five-on-three power play. While facing the most pressure of the period during the disadvantage, Holden looked calm, turning four consecutive grade-A attempts.
At 12:54, though, Holden showed a chink in the armor allowing the Huskies to get on the board. After saving an easy wrister by Jason Guerriero, Holden thought he had control of the puck. Instead, the puck came loose and laid in front of the net for Scott Selig to pick up and quickly bury for the 1-0 Huskies lead.
“Jamie played phenomenal tonight, but the first goal was just a bad break,” said Pecknold. “He thought he had it and he didn’t. It was lying right there.
“We need to do a better job of protecting him, though. Our defense kind of let up on the play and you can’t do that.”
The Bobcats survived an early second period onslaught by the Huskies, and by the halfway mark Northeastern began to look frustrated.
At 10:35, the Huskies had a golden chance to extend the lead on the power play. After Holden stopped a shot from the right point, rookie Mike Morris, camped out to the right of Holden, had a wide-open net to bury the puck. Morris, though, got off a poor shot, putting it into Holden as he dove across to make the save.
During a scrum after Morris’ miss, NU’s Mike Ryan picked up an extra minor for slashing, canceling the NU man advantage and giving the Bobcats an abbreviated 35-second power play of their own.
Unlike NU, though, Quinnipiac cashed in, evening the score on the score when Morton deflected a Matt Erhart shot over the left shoulder of NU goalie Keni Gibson (18 saves) into the upper corner.
The goal allowed Quinnipiac to hold even through two despite being outshot, 26-15.
Despite the loss, Pecknold felt the game was an excellent learning experience for a club that sports 21 underclassmen on its roster.
“We’re a young team, and we looked it at times tonight. But at the same time, we’ll take a lot of positives out of this game tonight.
“I asked them to do some things competitively and we did it. Unfortunately, we did it for about 52 minutes, not 60 minutes. I’m trying to stress to them that if we want to get back to the NCAA tournament, you have to play 60 minutes of hockey.”
The loss is the second in a row for the Bobcats, the first time they’ve lost back-to-back games since an 0-5-0 stretch from December 7, 2001 to January 5, 2002. Things won’t get much easier for QU, which has just two days to rest before facing No. 7 Maine on the road on Tuesday night.
Northeastern will look to put together back-to-back wins for the first time this season next weekend in the North Country, facing St. Lawrence on Friday and Clarkson on Saturday.