College Hockey:
Friars Erase Three-Goal Northeastern Lead, Stay In HEA Playoff Hunt

— Desperate to avoid slipping out of the final Hockey East playoff spot, Providence put together an improbable rally against Northeastern on Saturday night to gain a much-needed point.

Kyle Laughlin’s goal with 4:25 left in regulation earned the Friars a 3-3 tie with the Huskies at Schneider Arena.

Providence trailed, 3-0, going into the third before picking itself off the canvas and remaining in front of Massachusetts-Lowell for the eighth and final league postseason berth. The Friars and the River Hawks are tied in the standings with 14 points apiece after Lowell’s 3-2 win over Merrimack on Saturday, but Providence holds the tiebreaker with a 2-0-1 record against the River Hawks this season.

Both teams have a tough stretch run ahead, as Providence plays home-and-home series with No. 3 New Hampshire and Merrimack and Lowell squares off twice with No. 13 Boston College and finishes with a two-game trip to Vermont to battle the 16th-ranked Catamounts.

“They have to get the extra point,” Providence head coach Tim Army said. “We hold the spot, and I’d rather be playing from in front than from behind. We both have difficult schedules.”

Laughlin made the most of a rebound in the slot, as Northeastern goalie Brad Thiessen couldn’t cleanly handle Mark Fayne’s blast from the right point. Laughlin chipped the puck over Thiessen and just under the crossbar to earn Providence the unlikely draw, something that didn’t look remotely possible the way the Friars had skated against the Huskies for the previous five periods.

Thiessen made 37 saves in a 3-0 win at Matthews Arena on Friday and didn’t look like he was going to be giving up any goals on Saturday after making 26 saves through the first two periods.

“Our goalie played well,” Northeastern head coach Greg Cronin said. “If it wasn’t for him it could have been 9-3. They had more grade-A scoring chances in this third period than we’ve given up in the whole second half of the year.”

Providence played inspired hockey over the final 25 minutes, allowing just three shots on backup goalie Chris Mannix and snapping a scoreless string against Thiessen that spanned almost 103 minutes. The Friars outshot the Huskies 22-2 in the third, but the key moment in the game came when Providence was able to kill off a five-on-three Northeastern advantage for 1:49 midway through the period.

The Huskies failed to fire a single shot on the ensuing power play, and Laughlin came out of the penalty box and set up Bryan Horan in the slot just seconds later for his third of the year to cut the Friars’ deficit to 3-2.

“We try to close the lanes and we rotate pretty well,” Army said. “Sometimes in a five-on-three the power play group doesn’t want to get a shot blocked, so they try to be too fine with it. We just try to take their shooting lanes and passing lanes away.”

“They were pressuring the puck,” Cronin said. “That’s a two-on-none in front of the net if you can make two consecutive passes…it should have been game over then. It should have been 4-1 after that five-on-three.”

Providence opened its rally just 2:17 into the third, as North Providence native Cody Wild snapped home a one-timer from the right circle on Chase Watson’s nice pass from behind the net. Cronin felt the momentum beginning to shift, and he even used his timeout 7:27 into the period to try to stop the Friars’ siege at Thiessen’s doorstep.

“It was one of those games where they were waiting to get a goal, and then they were going to get energized,” Cronin said. “They got the goal, and as soon as they got the goal their energy level went through the roof and we were very atypical of the way we’ve played since the break.”

Northeastern was firmly in control over the opening two periods, with Thiessen providing solid goaltending and the Huskies’ special teams tormenting the Friars for the second straight night. Steve Birnstill slapped home a power-play goal from the point 11:23 into the first period and Bryan Esner finished off a breakaway by beating Providence starter Tyler Sims with a backhander for his second shorthanded goal in as many nights to make it 2-0 just over three minutes into the second.

Ryan Ginand’s fifth of the season with 3:27 left in the middle period gave Northeastern a three-goal lead and was the Huskies’ second goal of the period on just four shots. Sims was hooked for the second straight night, this time between the second and third periods, in favor of Mannix.

Army took Sims out after falling behind 2-0 after one period on Friday, two decisions that were meant to spark the stagnant Friars into action.

“We had to win,” Army said. “Pure and simple, we had to win. We didn’t, but we had to play with the intensity that we had to win.”

ICE CHIPS: Poor play on special teams continued to plague Providence this weekend. The Friars allowed a power-play goal by Steve Birnstill and a shorthanded goal by Bryan Esner in Saturday’s 3-3 tie with the Huskies, bringing Northeastern’s total for the weekend to five goals on special teams. Esner scored a shorthanded goal and Ryan Ginand and Joe Santilli each scored on the power play in the Huskies’ 3-0 win on Friday. Providence is ninth in Hockey East combined special teams and last on the power play, converting just 8.1 percent of its chances coming into Saturday. … Northeastern took the ice without its two leading scorers for the third straight night, as senior Mike Morris (back) and freshman Chad Costello (wrist) each missed Saturday’s game. Morris, who is second on the team with 18 points, hasn’t played since a 4-0 loss at Boston University on Feb. 5. Costello, who leads the team in goals (10) and points (20), missed his third straight game on Saturday. … Northeastern goalie Brad Thiessen was less than 20 minutes away from his fifth shutout of the season, which would have tied the talented freshman with Keni Gibson for the team record for shutouts in a single season. Gibson’s five shutouts in 2003-04 are the program record, a season in which he also notched the team’s last back-to-back shutouts. Thiessen is now 7-4-3 in 2007.

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