AMHERST, Mass. — Northeastern’s Keni Gibson summed it all up in one moment. Gibson sat there, the headline-making goaltender, after his 37 saves in Northeastern’s 3-2 victory over Massachusetts.
Said Gibson of the Huskies’ win: “We’ll find out in a few minutes how satisfying it was.”
Gibson and NU coach Bruce Crowder were in the Mullins Center Green Room, but they might as well have been 100 miles away, waiting on the score from the Boston University-New Hampshire matchup that would decide the Huskies’ fate.
After a nearby scribe asked if anyone had heard the score from Durham, he was told that BU had won, 4-3. Gibson misheard the score, thinking that UNH had won and sent the Huskies into the Hockey East playoffs.
“Well then, it’s very satisfying,” Gibson said, before doing a double-take, and looking back up. “Wait, you said BU won?”
With the affirmation that his season was over, a crestfallen Gibson put his hands on his head, leaned back, and sighed, “Oh God.”
From adrenaline-fueling victory to stomach-dropping defeat, in the course of five seconds. With its win, BU gets into the playoffs over Northeastern by the slimmest of margins.
Gibson was the first star in a game that saw the Huskies (11-16-7, 5-13-6 Hockey East) do everything they could to sneak past BU for the eighth and final spot. A handful of his 37 stops were the kind of quick-witted, physical saves he made in NU’s 4-0 shutout of the Minutemen (16-11-6, 12-9-3 HEA) the night before in Boston.
“Six words,” said Crowder, referring to the reason his squad was victorious, “Keni Gibson, Keni Gibson, and Keni Gibson.”
For the Minutemen, who had struggled through a 0-5-1 stretch through the past six games, a third-period comeback that fell short was a start, if not good enough to topple the visitors.
“The proper word is encouraging,” UMass coach Don Cahoon said. “It was interesting to try some things in the end. I think these games will serve us well going into the weekend. There were a lot of positives tonight, but we still weren’t good enough.”
The Minutemen will host Massachusettts-Lowell starting Thursday in the Hockey East quarterfinals.
Northeastern jumped out to a 2-0 lead after the second, despite being outshot 24-8 in the first two periods. Ray Ortiz ended up with the puck after it got loose in the UMass zone, and put it home from close range to give the visitors the two-goal advantage.
Steve Birnstill added to the total with one of UMass’ worst defensive breakdowns of the night early in the third. Birnstill ended up on the right-wing side of Winer’s net with open space in front. He drew Winer out, and after a handful of stick dekes, slipped it past on the backhand, under the stick of a diving defenseman.
Greg Mauldin then stepped in for the Minutemen, and scored goals on two consecutive power plays midway through the third. The first came off of good puck movement, with Stephen Werner giving Mauldin the feed down low.
The second was a blistering slapshot from the point off of a faceoff, with the assist given to Mauldin’s power-play blueline mate, defenseman Marvin Degon. As a result, the Minutemen were only down 3-2 with 12:30 to go.
The Huskies had opened the scoring at 19:19, when Brian Swiniarski was the lucky beneficiary of a Thomas Pck giveaway, sending it to Eric Ortlip, who forwarded the pass to Jared Mudryk, sitting pretty in front of Winer.
Although the Huskies struck first, the Minutemen’s play was a marked improvement over Friday night, when they were outskated by Northeastern to the tune of a 4-0 loss.