AMHERST, Mass. — The first 20 minutes of Friday night’s game worried Northeastern coach Greg Cronin. He knows the Huskies can play from behind, but it looked a little too familiar to the 2-0 deficit they faced two weeks ago at the Mullins Center.
First-place teams aren’t scared of adversity, though. They don’t mind playing on the road or overcoming a shaky performance from their goaltender. Mostly, they just win, no matter what the circumstances. Northeastern won Friday night, 5-3, and, even with that deficit entering the second period, the first few minutes of it eliminated any thoughts of another UMass rout.
“It didn’t look too good in the first 10 minutes of the first period; it got me thinking about the last time we were here when we got down 2-0 too,” NU coach Greg Cronin said.
“I looked on the bench, and nobody was rattled [when we were down 2-0],” Huskies’ captain Joe Vitale said. “I think if something like that happened four years ago, it would’ve been a 6-0 game. We’ve got some good seniors, a good core of guys and we didn’t get rattled. We just stuck to our game plan. Once we got out of penalty trouble and stayed five-on-five, we just took it from there.”
The win maintains NU’s two-point lead over No. 1 Boston University, 7-1 winners over Maine Friday night, atop the Hockey East standings heading into tomorrow’s back end of the home-and-home with UMass. The win also guarantees at least a tie with the Terriers before the teams meet for a home-and-home next weekend, beginning Friday night at Agganis Arena.
The Minutemen occupy the eighth and final playoff spot on the conference, two points clear of ninth-place Providence and a single point behind seventh-place Maine.
With the Minutemen leading 2-0, Wade MacLeod halved the lead with a power-play goal 5:17 into the second period. The goal was hardly a thing of beauty. MacLeod poked a rebound between the left pad of UMass goaltender Paul Dainton and the near post. It was, however, the product of an issue that snuck into both of UMass’ last two losses; Dainton can’t control rebounds and his defensemen can’t get them away from the goal.
“We need to start clearing pucks from in front of the net and controlling rebounds better,” Dainton said. “We can’t be letting stuff that in.”
The game-winning goal, Greg Costa’s second of the game and sixth of the season, was the result of another rebound, but also the early period woes the Minutemen have encountered in their latest string of losses.
“We talk about it all the time,” UMass coach Don Cahoon said. “It’s critical. It was a play where the kid gets his own rebound and he throws it upstairs. It was a great shot. I don’t think so much it was an issue of the first and last minute in this instance. [The front of the net] was an area we didn’t defend all night. They had two or three other chances from there; we’re not shutting that area down.’
Vitale tied the game 2-2, 6:23 after MacLeod made it 2-1. Again, rebound issues bit the Minutemen, this time following a line change. Dainton made the initial save on a shot from Tyler McNeely before Vitale bolted in and lifted it over Dainton.
The Huskies’ ability to consistently capitalize on Dainton’ rebounds is all that separated UMass from NU in the game. Shots tilted in favor NU, 34-33, and UMass was one-of-five on power plays while NU was one-of-six.
“It might’ve been a different game had we done a few things differently,” Cahoon said. “That’s what happens. That’s the fine line. As a team, we’re not finding a way to eliminate those fine lines.
“We’ve been erratic with identifying who we are, and then being able to put a belief system that sustains itself. It’s something we’re going to work on, and, hopefully, we can solve that issue. That’s the name of the game. The difference between us and everyone else is minuscule, but it shows up in the win loss column each and every time.”