BOSTON — It’s safe to say the Northeastern locker room has been about the least exciting place in all of Hockey East this season. Maybe even in the whole country.
Until Friday night, that is.
The Huskies snapped an 18-game winless streak that dated back to Nov. 11 by beating UMass-Lowell Friday at Matthews Arena 6-4. The hosts scored four unanswered goals in the first period and held off a furious three-goal Lowell rally in the second to escape with the victory and to pull within five points of the River Hawks (10-17-1, 7-13-1) for the eighth and final HE playoff spot.
“I don’t want this moment to end,” said Joe Vitale, who scored two goals in the third period, including the winner with 14:12 to play. “I want to stay here all night, I don’t wanna go out. The locker room is awesome right now, kids are just hootin and hollerin ‘Where you goin tonight, where you goin tonight?’ It’s just a great feeling, a feeling like no other. You just wanna stay in the moment and enjoy it as long as you can.”
“Everybody’s pretty happy,” said senior captain Chuck Tomes. “It’s a big monkey off our backs. It got tense at times, but it was good that we could pull together as a team and make sure we came through with a win in the end. When it started getting tough and they started scoring goals, we had to go back to what we had success with in the first period.”
Brian Deeth, Ryan Ginand, Josh Robertson and Ray Ortiz scored in the first period for Northeastern (2-19-6, 2-13-6).
Deeth started things 3:13 into the game when he corralled a bouncing puck and passed it to the front of the net where it somehow slide past UML goalie Peter Vetri (20 saves) and into the net.
A minute and a half later, Ginand made it 2-0. The freshman forward took a pass from classmate Dennis McCauley just outside the left faceoff circle and snapped a wrist shot off the far right post and in, inches above Vetri’s glove.
Roberston made it a three-goal lead on just Northeastern’s sixth shot. The sophomore center skated up ice with junior Yale Lewis on a two-on-one and decided to shoot, firing a wrister through Vetri’s legs to make it 3-0 6:34 into the game.
Ortiz added the fourth goal, snapping a lazy wrist shot from the point that snuck through Vetri’s legs.
The blowout was thwarted by a strong Lowell effort in the second period. Bobby Robins cut into the deficit with a faceoff goal five minutes into the frame, and winger Andrew Martin added another faceoff tally just 21 seconds later to make it 4-2. With 4:41 to play before second intermission, left winger Jeremy Hall connected on a wide open one-timer from the left slot to make it a one-goal game.
Problem was, they’d never get any closer.
Vitale potted the winner six minutes into the third period, taking a pass from junior Bryan Esner and sliding a backhander five-hole. Although Robins made it a one-goal game again with eight minutes to play, Vitale squashed any River Hawk hopes with 1:17 to play when he took a drop pass from freshman Rob Rassey and fired it home from the left faceoff circle.
“It’s tough to spot a desperate team a four-nothing lead,” UML coach Blaise MacDonald said. “Northeastern came out and took advantage of some puck luck that they haven’t experienced most of the year; a couple goals jumped in then they made some great plays when they had to. So, we were down 4-nothing at the end of 20 minutes.
“But I was really pleased at how we came back. By our estimation, we won or tied every shift in the second period and really played well.
“It’s always frustrating when you lose a game,” MacDonald continued. “When you look at the opportunities, our power play — I liked the way we moved the puck. I thought we had good looks. Their goalie just made a lot of great saves, they cleared rebounds and we couldn’t quite win those loose puck battles in front of their net.”
Northeastern’s next game comes Monday against Harvard in the consolation game of the Beanpot Tournament. UMass-Lowell is off until next Friday when it travels to Merrimack.