ORONO, Maine — It took nearly 55 minutes before a goal was scored, but finally Maine’s Mike Lundin found the net to give the Black Bears a 1-0 win over Northeastern Friday night at the Alfond Arena.
Lundin’s first goal of the season at the 14:37 mark of the third period broke a scoreless tie in a defensive battle. The win leapfrogged Maine into a tie for second place with Boston University in the Hockey East standings.
“Defense was the most important thing in a game with two great goalies,” said Maine head coach Tim Whitehead. “We continued to press throughout the game. When it was tough to get a goal, we didn’t sit back. We continued to generate some chances, even though most of them were from the outside. I thought Northeastern did a good job of protecting the front of the net. But we were able to get the one goal, which ended up being enough.”
With the win, Maine improved to 14-8-5 overall and 9-3-3 in the conference while Northeastern dropped to 9-13-3 and 5-8-2 in Hockey East play.
The Black Bears outshot the Huskies 26-15 in the contest.
“Northeastern’s shot total is deceiving,” said Whitehead. “I thought both teams played a good hockey game from end to end.”
But in the end, Lundin’s goal made the difference.
With a little more than five minutes remaining, a pass from the right faceoff circle failed to center the puck. But Lundin corralled it and threw a shot on goal. Husky netminder Keni Gibson left a rebound to his stick side.
“I picked it up and skated around the net,” said Lundin. “I was thinking pass, and then I saw the net wide open, so I just wrapped it around as quickly as I could and threw my hands up. The red light came on, but I didn’t really see it go in.”
It did, much to Gibson’s chagrin.
After a Northeastern defender pushed Maine’s Rob Bellamy into the crease, Gibson’s pad entangled with Bellamy’s skates. Gibson attempted to cross the crease to stop Lundin’s wraparound attempt but had some trouble doing so.
“When I tried to go to the left post, I got tangled up a bit and lost my balance,” said Gibson. “I had to sprawl to get across, and I laid my pads flat on the ice. I felt the puck and then lost it. I tried to cover up the goal line, hoping it wouldn’t get in, but it trickled in somehow.”
Lundin’s unassisted tally came as a relief. After scoring three goals as a freshman last season, Lundin became frustrated when he couldn’t score this year.
“I had a few goals early in the season last year,” said Lundin. “It seemed a lot easier then. But this year, I didn’t really get anything even close, so it’s just nice to get that first one under the belt.”
He said his teammates might not heckle him as much anymore, either.
“They were pretty excited because they had been on me a lot for not scoring at all this year, so they’re pretty happy for me,” he said.
Black Bear goaltender Jimmy Howard said Lundin had a dream the night before the game that he would score his first goal.
“I normally don’t have dreams about hockey, so it was pretty weird,” said Lundin by way of confirmation.
Howard, the Hockey East defensive player of the week, completed his fifth shutout of the season, one shy of the highest single-season total of his career, and stopped all 15 shots he faced. He said it wasn’t easy to save so few shots, but didn’t let the pressure of a scoreless tie affect him.
“I don’t really think about that,” said Howard. “I just try to stay loose and focused because you never know when they will come down and get a shot, which were few and far between tonight.”
Howard also said he has played better in the past two months than he did to start the season.
“I haven’t had any injuries or illnesses — knock on wood,” he said, rapping his knuckles on the table behind him. “I’m just trying to get back into the rhythm, and it’s really starting to feel good out there.”
For the Huskies, Gibson saved 25 of 26 shots on goal.
“He has played well all year,” said Northeastern head coach Bruce Crowder. “He’s a kid who has put himself in a position to be an all-star. He has improved so much since last year. He’s been consistent from the beginning this season. We need to make sure our goalie’s playing well, and he’s definitely giving us that.”
For Gibson, it was his second appearance against the Black Bears this season. In the previous meeting at Northeastern in November, Gibson stopped 41 shots in a 4-2 win. He said his teammates’ play on defense in limiting rebounds prevented further scoring this time.
“I was holding the puck well, and my team cleared it well, too,” said Gibson. “They were eliminating those passes across the crease and were making sure Maine didn’t get quality chances in close. It made it a lot easier on me when they took those chances away.”
Crowder was pleased with his team’s effort, though the Huskies came up short on the offensive end of the stick.
“I think Maine did a good job keeping us to the outside,” said Crowder. “I don’t think we did a very good job getting pucks to the net. We were looking for the perfect goal instead of just getting pucks and throwing them in to try to create some havoc.”
Maine outshot Northeastern 8-1 in the second period, but Black Bear forward Michel Leveille said his team wasn’t overanxious even though the score stood at 0-0.
“We knew we didn’t have to score right away in the third period,” said Leveille. “We had the whole time, and we had a lot more shots than they did. And we played well defensively to protect Howard, and we finally got one by — the one we needed to win.”
The teams will rematch Saturday night at Alfond Arena in a 7 p.m. start.