BOSTON — On a rare Sunday afternoon matinee at Matthews Arena the Massachusetts Minutemen took control of the game in the second period and never let up in a 5-3 victory.
The Minutemen took the initial lead, then lost it to NU, then regained it for good on a Justin Braun goal near the end of the second.
The win keeps the Minutemen in contention for a coveted home-ice slot in the Hockey East playoffs. Even though Northeastern has clinched a spot in the playoffs, where the Huskies will play is still up in the air. NU can finish seventh or eighth in Hockey East.
“Just a real determined effort by a group of guys,” UMass head coach Don “Toot” Cahoon said after the game, “I’m really proud of this team, and this what they did today considering the circumstances is really special.”
UMass raced out to the early lead, scoring the first goal less than two minutes in. Cory Quirk scored his 11th goal of the season off the top of NU goalie Brad Thiessen’s glove-hand corner. Chris Capraro got his first of his three assists on the night. David Leaderer also got an assist on the play.
NU netted the equalizer on a scrum in front of the net when Chris Donovan managed to poke it through a sprawled Dan Meyers. Joe Vitale and Bryan Esner got assists on the play.
Meyers, substituting for the injured Jon Quick, only found out he was playing half an hour before the drop of the puck.
“I thought [Meyers] battled all night long. I thought he followed the puck particularly well. I think it was just a gritty effort.” Cahoon continued, “I really give him high marks for his preparation and his determination.”
“I felt pretty solid, the team played unbelievably in front of me. They let me see most of the shots and I felt pretty confident” Meyers said. “I just gotta go out there and do my thing. I was brought here for a reason. Obviously, Jon is one of the best goalies in the nation, but I was brought here because I feel like I can compete. This was my opportunity, you don’t get a lot of them, so I wanted to make the best of it.”
With less than three minutes to go in the period, Leaderer came streaking down on Thiessen’s right and rocketed a shot that rang off the corner and deflected right to the stick of Matt Anderson. Anderson buried the puck in the back of the net before Thiessen or the rest of the Northeastern D could find it. Capraro collected his second assist of the afternoon on the play.
Northeastern seemed to come out stronger in the second and was rewarded for its effort when Chad Costello found the back of the net on a shot that went through tons of traffic in front. It was Costello’s team leading 11th goal of the season. Joe Vitale and Kyle Kraemer got assists.
NU grabbed the lead when penalty-killing specialist Bryan Esner scored his third shorthanded goal in the past four games. Ray Ortiz started the play by bouncing the puck to Esner, who spun and led a shot towards the net. The puck clanked into the back corner, giving NU the lead.
The lead would not be long-lasting, as Esner was whistled for a penalty less than a minute after scoring the goal. On a five-on-three advantage with Chris Donovan in the box as well, P.J. Fenton made the Huskies pay.
A pass by Capraro that was initially supposed to go back-door was instead deflected by Northeastern defender Louis Liotti and sat still in front of the net, where Fenton shot it home. Mark Matheson collected an assist on the game-tying goal, which NU head coach Greg Cronin referred to as the game-changing moment.
The Minutemen took the lead at the end of the second when Justin Braun snapped a shot from Thiessen’s left which went five-hole. UMass added the insurance with an empty-netter by Mike Kostka.
Thiessen made 29 saves on 34 shots and Meyers made 29 saves on 32 shots. The NU power play went 0-3, UMass 1-4.
Northeastern (12-16-5, 8-13-5) has one tilt left, against crosstown rival Boston University Wednesday at 7:30 p.m. at Matthews Arena. Up next for UMass (16-11-5, 13-9-3) is a pair with the Maine Black Bears at Mullins Center.