BOSTON — For what it’s worth, Jimmy Howard and Keni Gibson thoroughly enjoyed Saturday night’s 0-0 Hockey East draw between third-ranked Maine and last-place Northeastern.
Howard, easing his way back into form after spraining his right knee before the World Junior Championships a month ago, stopped 40 Husky shots, while counterpart Gibson thwarted 32.
“It’s fun to play in a game like that,” Gibson said. “Obviously you want to be on the winning end, but there’s nothing wrong with a tie and nothing wrong with watching good goaltending at both ends of the rink. I was happy with my play, but it was fun to watch him play, too.”
As a credit to the netminders, hardly any of the 72 combined shots were second-chance efforts. “I thought (Howard) really sponged the puck well tonight, he controlled his rebounds very well tonight. As did Gibson,” said Maine coach Tim Whitehead. “I thought that was one of the reasons neither team could score. There weren’t a lot of second and third opportunities.
“Both teams had plenty of chances to take the lead,” he added. “We certainly had ours, they certainly had theirs. But both goalies were very sharp, and certainly the best two players on the ice.”
Howard and Gibson weren’t the only ones having fun, though. The end-to-end action kept each of the 1,978 in attendance on the edge of their seat.
“For a zero-zero game, I thought there was a lot of exciting play,” Whitehead said.
“It was one of those games that I think is very much a crowd pleaser, and the coaches get old,” said Northeastern skipper Bruce Crowder. “Sixty-five minutes and both kids made huge saves; it was a great college hockey game.”
Gibson, who set the school record for career and single season shutouts, faced 13 shots in the first period.
With 1:35 left in the opening frame, Maine’s Colin Shields ripped a tape-to-tape pass to freshman Josh Soares who tipped the puck towards the left post. Gibson, sliding from right to left, calmly sent the puck into the corner — a scene repeated throughout the evening.
In the second period, with Maine (21-6-3, 12-4-2) again pressuring the Northeastern net, Black Bear freshman Michel Leveille clanged a wrist shot off the post after scooping up the rebound of a shot from the point.
Northeastern (8-14-6, 2-11-5) carried play in the third period, outshooting the visitors 17-9 — but that’s not to say Maine didn’t threaten.
With 12:09 left in regulation, Black Bear Derek Damon stole the puck in the NU zone, wheeled in front of the net and eventually lifted a backhand shot on goal. After an uncanny glove save from Gibson, the sophomore slammed his stick into the boards.
It was that kind of night.
Five minutes later, Maine struck the post again. This time, Gibson nicked a shot from Mike Lundin and the puck bounced off the outer edge of the right upright.
However, Howard wasn’t about to sit back and let the former Ottawa Jr. Senator steal the show.
With 3:49 left to play in the third, NU freshman Bryan Esner found senior Eric Ortlip in the left slot for a one-timed blast on net. Howard, as he was prone to do most of the night, flashed a glove save and kept the game scoreless. Even Northeastern’s student section was wowed by the stop, and moved to bow in reverence to the Detroit Red Wing draftee.
In overtime, Howard again made use of the glove, this time stumping NU sophomore Mike Morris’ sixth shot of the night. Morris carried the puck across the blue line, squirmed through a pair of defenders and found daylight to unleash a potent wrist shot.
“He was coming right down the middle, so I gave him the glove, hoping he’d go there,” Howard said. “He did, and I was able to snag it.”
Yeah, no big deal.
For Howard, the contest was another step towards recovering from the injury that sat him for nearly five weeks.
“I’m still not 100 percent; the injury is still lingering,” he said. “When I think I’m OK, it reminds me that it’s still there. I’ve just been wearing a protective brace and giving it day-to-day and letting it heal.”
Both Howard and Whitehead were impressed with the play of Northeastern, and cognizant of the parity among Hockey East teams.
“I saw more (shots) than usual tonight against Northeastern,” Howard said. “They came out tonight, they came ready to play and deserved the point.”
“It was a real hard-fought game. We knew points were going to be tough to come by down here, and obviously they were,” said Whitehead, whose team downed Northeastern 3-1 Friday night. “I’m very impressed with Northeastern’s team both nights. I thought they competed extremely hard and every shift they battle.
“It’s a great statement for our league,” he added. “This [parity] is not unusual, and that’s the most important thing. This is not a surprise, because that’s just how our league is. They’re a pretty good team, and we’ve played a lot of good teams. They’re as good as anybody.”
Maine will host Providence next weekend in a two-game series at Alfond Arena. Northeastern is on the road to play Merrimack Friday night and New Hampshire on Saturday.