LOWELL, Mass. — Winning ugly is better than losing pretty — especially when a regular season title is on the line.
Despite being outshot 33-17 for the game, mustering only two shots on the power play, and generally getting outplayed for the entire game, the fourth ranked Northeastern Huskies still pulled out a 3-1 win over the No. 20 Mass.-Lowell River Hawks on Saturday in front of more than 6,000 fans at Tsongas Arena.
It was an ugly win — our goalie was obviously the best player on the ice, said NU coach Greg Cronin. I thought our goalie did a good job with his rebounds, and I thought our D did a good job cleaning up the front of the net. It was an ugly win, Lowell outplayed us, but youre able to sneak a win out of here.
I thought we were clearly the better team tonight, said UML coach Blaise MacDonald. We did everything we wanted to, we played very well in all three zones. I think Brad Thiessen is the player of the year in Hockey East, and he showed it today. He clearly won the game for them.
Throughout the course of the game, while Thiessen steered away 32 of the 33 shots he saw, the Huskies got some very fortunate bounces on the other end of the ice.
Dennis McCauley scored the first goal of the game for the Huskies with 1:13 left to play in the opening frame, on what seemed like a fluttering puck. His shot somehow found a way to get through several bodies in front of the net.
The first one, I still couldnt tell you how it went in, said River Hawks goaltender Carter Hutton. It was just one of those ones, Driscoll shot it from the point and he got a high tip on it somebody told me. I didnt know it went in until the guy beside me celebrated.
For the second NU goal, Randy Guzior put a shot on Hutton, and when Hutton could not freeze the puck, Mike McLaughlin was the first man on the scene, and poked the rebound home, five-hole, to give the Huskies the 2-0 lead at 5:35 in the second period.
It was almost like when the shot was coming, I was readjusting, said Hutton. Then the guy got the tip, and it kind of just squeaked through me. Its definitely one Id like to have back, but thats the way it works.
The River Hawks got their lone goal of the evening at 9:34 in the second period on a perfectly executed tic-tac-toe goal. From just inside the slot, Jonathan Maniff made a perfect pass to David Vallorani standing at the post. With NU goaltender Brad Thiessen at the opposite post, Vallorani flipped the puck into an open net to bring the River Hawks back within a goal.
Despite throwing shot after shot on Thiessen, the River Hawks could not pull the score any closer. With 15.5 seconds remaining in the contest, Huskies captain Joe Vitale sealed the victory with the empty net goal.
The loss — combined with wins from Vermont and New Hampshire on Saturday night — ended the River Hawks hopes of hosting a first round Hockey East playoff series.
The win was also Northeasterns 22nd of the season — the second most in a season for the Huskies all-time, only to the 1982 ECAC championship squads 25. The win also keeps the Huskies one point ahead of Boston University for first place in the conference heading into the final weekend of the regular season — something that is not lost on Cronin.
Well, weve never done it before in the history of our school. In twenty-five years in the league, Northeasterns never finished first overall. Weve won a Hockey East championship, but never won the league outright in the regular season. We set our goals out to start the year to win the regular season championship, and now its within our grasp.