BOSTON — It was the classic David vs. Goliath matchup. Northeastern, winless in Hockey East play, was hosting Boston College, undefeated in the league. First place vs. last place.
And like the Biblical protagonists, Hockey East’s David, namely the Northeastern Huskies, toppled the league’s Goliath, shutting out second-ranked BC, 3-0, in impressive fashion.
“It’s a tremendous, tremendous win for the kids, the coaching staff and the program,” NU coach Bruce Crowder said.
Goaltender Keni Gibson recorded his third shutout in five games, all wins albeit with the first four coming in nonconference matchups. In the process, he tied both the school’s single-season and career shutout marks.
The Huskies, after being totally outplayed in the first period, responded with 40 minutes of strong play to key the win. It proved a counterpoint to the Nov. 29 contest between the two teams in which Northeastern seized a first-period 2-0 lead only to see BC score four unanswered goals to take the win.
“We had some conversations at the end of the first,” Crowder said. “We just didn’t come to play. [The Eagles] are a tremendous hockey team, but it’s one thing to put them up on the next level where they’re a little God-ish. That’s what we talked about.
“We had to address that and the kids responded tremendously. Keni made some huge saves and our young defense is getting better and better.”
Northeastern (5-9-2, 1-7-1 HEA) remains in last place, three points behind Providence and Boston University and four behind Merrimack with two games in hand, but now has a glimmer of hope that it can climb out of the cellar.
“I’ve said this from day one and I’ll say it again; I like this team,” Crowder said. “It’s another step tonight. We’ve got a hole [in the standings] to get ourselves out of, but it’s a start.”
The loss marks the first for Boston College (13-3-3, 6-1-2 HEA) since Oct. 24 when, coincidentally, it was also shut out, that time by Notre Dame, 1-0. The Eagles remain in first place, one point ahead of Maine.
“We had a lot of quality chances in the first period that we didn’t finish on,” said BC assistant head coach Ron Rolston, speaking in place of head coach Jerry York who missed the game due to illness. “After that first period, they took away the momentum of the game. Tonight, it just wasn’t there.
“Right now with our ranking in the nation, every team in this league is fired up to play us. Especially with them being at home tonight, they were ready. Our focus was as good, in terms of preparation, as it is for any hockey team, [but] you could say there is a mental edge to [the Huskies] because they’re coming off a four-game winning streak and tournament [win] also and they’re at home. Our guys, I don’t think, mentally had that edge tonight that they needed.”
BC held a clear advantage in a scoreless first period, generating virtually all of the quality scoring opportunities while wracking up a 12-4 shot advantage. The best of the chances came when Stephen Gionta clanged iron off an early feed from Ben Eaves and then later with a Ryan Shannon setup for Dave Spina.
Northeastern rebounded with a second period that in many ways mirrored BC’s first with the exception being that the Huskies buried one of their chances. After three glittering opportunities by Steve Sanders failed to deliver a goal, including a post that he hit at almost an identical time to Gionta’s, Jason Guerriero struck paydirt at 14:56. Mike Morris carried the puck down the left wing, shot and Guerriero put in the rebound. The goal gave the junior a team-leading total of eight.
BC threatened near the end of the period on the power play, requiring a crucial clearing of the puck from the crease by defenseman Steve Birnstill, but could not put one past goaltender Keni Gibson.
Early in the third, Northeastern capitalized where BC had not prior to the intermission, scoring a critical power-play goal at 2:23. Jon Awe shot from the left point and the puck trickled through BC goaltender Matti Kaltiainen’s pads toward the goal line where Eric Ortlip knocked it in.
Both sides traded two-on-one shorthanded breaks that they couldn’t convert, with BC’s requiring a sharp Gibson glove save on a J.D. Forrest shot from the doorstep.
At 15:51, the Huskies appeared to have scored a nail-in-the-coffin goal when Yale Lewis fought off a defender on a partial breakaway to generate a shot after which trailer Aaron Moore put in the rebound. Referee John Gravallese waved it off, however, ruling that Lewis had been in the crease.
That ruling proved inconsequential, though, after Jason Guerriero and Mike Morris collaborated on a goal that was as artistic as it was conclusive. Guerriero sent the puck from the left wing to Morris, who was crashing the net, and the sophomore redirected it home.
Both teams are now off until next weekend when Boston College hosts Merrimack while Northeastern faces Boston University in a road game before hosting Holy Cross.