BOSTON — Friday the 13th may be known as the day that many horror movies hit the theater. Fridays opening game of the Hockey East quarterfinal series between second seeded Northeastern and seventh seed Massachusetts played out as a horror on the ice for Huskies coach Greg Cronin.
Northeastern, which a week ago was a single win away from winning its first-ever regular season Hockey East title only to lose to Boston College, now sees its chances for a postseason title on life support after falling, 2-1, to the Minutemen on Friday in front of 3,755 at Matthews Arena.
The loss came despite the Huskies breaking a scoreless deadlock at 4:51 of the third period when Wade MacLeod beat UMass goaltender Paul Dainton shorthanded to give the Huskies a lead.
But a resilient Minutemen club battled back, tying the game on a Matt Irwin slapshot through traffic with 11:40 remaining and then taking a lead they would not surrender on a second effort goal by Chris Davis with 7:30 remaining.
It was a tight game. The shots indicated it and the score indicated it, said Cronin. You have to give [UMass] credit because they got two grind-it-out goals.
UMass had itself in position to win the game, though, thanks to a tight-checking defensive style that bottled up Northeastern in the neutral zone throughout much of the game, keeping their offense off the board and keeping the raucous crown of Huskies faithful quiet much of the night.
It was a hard fought game, said UMass coach Don Toot Cahoon. It didnt look good for us after the shorthanded goal but we battled back. The win is nice for tonights game, but this series is far from over.
The win, though certainly a David vs. Goliath story, does not come as too much of a shock when considering UMass won the season series against the Huskies, two games to one. However, the statistically oddity of the victory has to do with UMass being a number seven seed. No number seven seed has ever won a Hockey East quarterfinal playoff matchup and, in fact, seventh seeds entered Fridays game with a 2-38-1 record all-time in Hockey East playoff games.
The scoreless opening frame saw a solid pace and hard-hitting hockey but neither team mustered much offensively, with UMass holding a 7-5 lead in shots.
Each team had quality scoring chances with Northeasterns coming early and UMass getting a grade A bid late.
It took just 37 seconds for NUs Ryan Ginand to find space near the net and test Dainton. The Huskies top goal scorer was alone at the right post and fired a shot that forced Dainton to move right to left to make a pad save.
At 8:45, MacLeod had his own bid, this one a mirror image of Ginands forcing Dainton to slide left to right to get the pad on the puck.
The Minutemen were held mostly to the perimeter until the final minute, when Chase Langeraap got open in the slot. A strange bounce allowed the puck to land on Langeraaps stick and his quick one-timer was stopped by Northeastern goaltender Brad Thiessen (23 saves) with 58 seconds remaining.
In the second, the offensive struggles continued, that is, until the closing minute.
With 33 seconds remaining, the Minutemen had the best chance of the game when defenseman Justin Braun joined the rush and created a two-on-one. Braun fired the original shot that Thiessen stopped, but unable to control the rebound, the puck bounced to a wide open Cory Quirk. Facing the wide open net, the puck bounced over Quirks stick and was cleared out of harms way.
Before the final buzzer, though, the Huskies had their own bid. A scrum in front resulted in MacLeod standing wide open with the puck in the slot. He attempted to pull the puck around Dainton but the sophomore netminder stayed right with him and stuffed the bid before the buzzer sounded.
That, though, set up a wild third period. MacLeods goal at 4:51 came after he picked the pocket of Casey Wellman, gained space and fired a shot under the crossbar.
Facing the ominous situation, UMass continued to battle and Irwin blasted a slapshot through traffic that beat Thiessen cleanly high on the blocker side.
That quieted the crowd and allowed the Minutemen to gain some extended puck possession. The result was David picking up a puck behind the net, trying to stuff it at the left post and banging on the rebound to push the puck into the net despite seemingly having no room.
My first bid Thiessen made a good stop, said Davis of the goal. My second whack luckily it hoped over his pad and into the net.
From that point on, the UMass defense bottled up the Huskies and never gave them a quality chance to tie the game. Even after pulling Thiessen for an extra attacker, the Northeastern offense couldnt move the puck in the zone and as the seconds ticked off the clock, the Minutemen cleared the puck to center ice to kick off the celebration.
While the Minutemen are just a win away from advancing to the Hockey East final four next weekend for just the fourth time in program history, Northeastern now faces a do-or-die game on Saturday, hoping to force a third game in the series.
[The players] have worked too hard not to recognize the opportunity to win tomorrow night, said Cronin. Our backs are against the wall. We have to win and [the players] have to respond to it.