ORONO, Maine — On any given night.
Saturday at Alfond Arena, the tired old clich again reared its adventuresome head. Before a sellout crowd of Maine faithful, underdog Northeastern managed to stage a dramatic comeback against a streaking Black Bear squad.
Anchored by the always-resilient goaltending of Keni Gibson, the Huskies crawled their way back to earn a gutsy 2-2 stalemate and salvage a near-sweep.
Highlighted by a feverish overtime period that saw both teams register near-fatal penalties in the opening two minutes, Northeastern stole a one-point souvenir from its weekend engagement in Orono. The Black Bears, who watched their unbeaten streak, move to seven games with the deadlock, were buoyed by the play of red-hot Keith Johnson and All-American goaltending from Jimmy Howard.
With the decision, Maine slid to 14-8-6 on the year and 9-3-4 in conference competition. For the Huskies, the tie improved their mark to 9-13-3 overall and 5-8-3 in Hockey East play. More importantly, the stalemate between the two foes pushes Maine into a two-way tie for third place in Hockey East with hated rival UNH, setting up an almost instant classic-type atmosphere for next weekend’s duel between the two programs.
After the game Maine captain John Ronan addressed the disappointment in missing the sweep.
“Its unacceptable being at home and blowing a two-goal lead like that,” said Ronan. “We were undisciplined and that’s when they took over.”
In the other locker room, Tim Judy, who finished the game with two crucial assists, discussed the sudden reversal of fortune.
“Any time you get a point up here against Maine, their great team, you’re happy,” said Judy. “They came out and we weathered the storm, we knew if we stuck to the game plan things would turn our way.”
The bigger of Judy’s two assists came halfway through the third period at 9:43, when Bryan Esner received a long pass from the talented defensemen. Maine defensemen Matthew Deschamps proceeded to miss a swipe at the puck, which allowed Esner to sneak in for a breakaway opportunity on Howard. Esner capitalized on the one-on-one, taking Howard top-shelf for the tally.
“I beat him through the arm — it was a fortunate bounce,” said Esner.
The goal completed a dramatic comeback by the Huskies, which was ignited in the waning minutes of the second period. With 1:19 remaining in the period, Judy flung a bouncing pass into the front of the Black Bear net to Mike Morris, who found the mesh for his 12th tally of the year.
The goal, coming on the power play, incited a raucous home crowd that thought Morris was in the crease on the play.
“We just threw a puck to the net and guys battled through their defense and got to Jimmy Howard,” said Judy. “That’s the only way you’re going to score against that kid.”
For Whitehead, the Huskies’ rally benefited from the play of an undisciplined Black Bear attack.
“No question, we gave them opportunities on the power play,” said Whitehead. “The 5-on-3 was a big opportunity for them, I’ll have to watch the tape and look at some of the calls, but the bottom line is we took penalties.”
Maine finished the game with 13 penalties, surrendering six power plays to Northeastern. Both teams went 1-for-6 on the power play.
The biggest of those penalties came in the extra frame when Michel Leveille was called for a five-minute spear 24 seconds into the period. The penalty caused the Black Bears to drop back to more defensive mindset, rendering an overtime victory unlikely.
“I didn’t see it, but my guess is that it was a penalty,” said Whitehead. “If you’re going to get a five-minute [major] it must have been very severe, so there’s no excuse for that. We have a opportunity to win that game and basically we have to play for a tie.”
Whitehead was disappointed with the timing of the play and what it may foreshadow.
“Obviously that type of penalty is not going to win us any hockey games,” said Whitehead. “If we’re going to continue to take penalties like that every third or fourth game I don’t know how far we’re going to go, but if we play disciplined then, hey, we’re going to make some noise going down the stretch.”
The penalty was fresh in Leveille’s mind after the outcome.
“It’s my fault, I shouldn’t have done it — you’ve got to play with adversity,” said Leveille.
However, at 1:05 of the overtime, Northeastern merited a two-minute obstruction-interference, preventing a four-minute power play for the Huskies. Jared Mudryk was the guilty party.
“It was a good opportunity for us and I think the ref was looking to make a call to just to even it up,” said Esner. “I mean we should have scored, but to come out of here with a point is better than two losses.”
With both teams battling four-on-four for the middle part of the overtime, Northeastern was unable to get a good look at Howard. The Huskies’ best opportunity came 40 seconds remaining in overtime when Mudryk sent a short-range wrist shot wide of Howard.
Howard finished the contest with 25 saves, while Gibson hauled in 32 on the night.
“We should have picked up four out of four [points] this week,” said Howard. “It’s just back to the drawing board for us.”
Maine opened the scoring earlier in the first period when the red-hot Johnson deflected a Bret Tyler slapshot from the left point. The goal, at 12:32, was assisted by Derek Damon.
The Black Bears dominated much of the opening period, recording another goal at 3:34. On the score, Ronan faked out Gibson with a deke to his right side, enough to allow a wide-open top half of the net. Ronan fired the shot home for his seventh goal of the year. Deschamps registered an assist on the play as Maine closed out the period with 11-5 advantage in the shot department.
Maine returns to action next weekend with the two game road series with UNH, while Northeastern is set to play Massachusetts this Thursday at 7 p.m.