BOSTON — P.J. Fenton clobbered the puck into the Northeastern net, lowered himself to one knee and gave a nice, slow fist pump in celebration.
But it wasn’t exactly a knockout punch yet.
The Huskies rallied to tie the score at two after Fenton gave UMass a 2-1 edge in the third period Friday night, but through regulation and overtime Northeastern couldn’t pull out the victory.
So, with three games left in the season NU is in do-or-die mode. The team must win all three of its remaining games (including two on the road, where it hasn’t won all season) and hope for some help to earn a spot in the Hockey East Tournament. With the tie, the Huskies (3-21-7, 3-14-7) are now five points behind UMass-Lowell and six back of UMass-Amherst for the eighth and final spot.
Conversely, the Minutemen (12-18-1, 9-14-1) find themselves in far better shape. With games left against Northeastern (Saturday night), and Maine (a two-game set on the road next weekend), UMass is one point away from clinching a spot in the conference tournament.
“It’s the type of game I guess you’d expect to play late in February with two teams hanging on just by the skin of their teeth. No one really conceded anything to the other guy so it turned into a real struggle from start to finish with good chances at both ends of the rink and anybody’s game for sure.”
UMass held the lead twice, but Northeastern answered both times.
Mark Matheson put the visitors on top nine minutes into the first period, taking a pass from Chris Capraro near the blue line and lacing a slap shot past NU netminder Adam Geragosian (28 saves) for a power play strike. Four minutes later, Northeastern evened the game. Junior Joe Santilli corralled a shot that pinballed through traffic in and tapped a backhander past UM goalie Gabe Winer (34 saves).
In the third period, on the power play again, Fenton scored his fourth of the year to put the Minutemen on top again. Chris Davis took a pass at the left post and tried to jam it past Geragosian but failed. The rebound popped to Fenton, who swatted it over the line for a 2-1 advantage.
NU freshman Dennis McCauley drew the home team even again with seven minutes to play on a controversial play. Junior Yale Lewis took a snap shot from right faceoff circle and barreled into Winer, knocking him deep into his own net. In the ensuing scramble in front, McCauley slid the puck over the line for his seventh goal of the year.
“It doesn’t matter what I think,” Cahoon said.” The referee didn’t think (it was interference). I have my own thoughts, and we’ll get a chance to look at it on tape and maybe a few other people will look at it as well.”
The Huskies possessed quality scoring chances near the end of regulation and into overtime, but Winer turned them back every time.
With three minutes to play, Santilli fed freshman Joe Vitale in the left faceoff circle and Winer sliding from post to post did well to nick it with his toe and send it wide. With 1:44 left in overtime, NU defenseman Chuck Tomes took a slap shot from the point that Santilli redirected on net, but Winer held his ground again.
“Gabe’s been in a groove pretty much for four years,” Cahoon said. “He’s had a lot of good games for us and I think that tonight was another one of those good games.”
The tie, Northeastern’s seventh of the year, set a new school record and marked yet another close game where the possibility of getting points stood barely out of reach.
“I thought about pulling the goalie in overtime,” NU coach Greg Cronin said after his team set a school record with its seventh tie.
“It was in the back of my head. It’s one of those things that if you do it and you win, then you’re a hero and if you lose you’re really a dummy because you eliminate yourself. I figured out of the scenarios win, lose or tie the loss would be the most damaging. I wanted to keep everything alive because again we’re back to the same scenario tomorrow night you have to pull the goalie because you have to win the game.
“With all the bad luck we’ve had this year, I thought maybe we’d get those chances in overtime, pucks bouncing around, I thought we’d get just one of those good luck bounces and it didn’t happen.”
The teams faceoff Saturday at UMass’ Mullins Center at 7 p.m.