GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — In NCAA tournament hockey, it’s not uncommon for unlikely heroes to emerge. Saturday, it was an injured Big Red player listed day-to-day and the 36th-best power play in the country that enabled Cornell to come from behind in a 3-2 victory over Northeastern.
“It’s not really what we want, but it seems like the last three NCAA games we’ve been in we’ve given up a two-goal lead and been able to come back and win it — once against Ohio State and Colorado College,” said Cornell head coach Mike Schafer. “It’s something I wish these guys wouldn’t continue to do.”
“Obviously, that’s a tough loss, no matter how you slice it,” said Northeastern head coach Greg Cronin. “Two back-to-back — you know, we had the Lowell game last week and now this one — both 2-0 leads and very uncharacteristic of our team. All season, we’ve been very consistent and deliberate.”
Down 2-0 toward the end of the third period, the Big Red got a goal from Blake Gallagher at 17:58 to cut Northeastern’s lead and scored two unanswered in the third period — Colin Greening’s power-play tally at 16:04 and Evan Barlow’s even-strength game-winner with 18 seconds left in regulation.
“The biggest goal in the game was obviously the one in the second period by Blake Gallagher,” said Schafer. “It ended up giving us some life on the bench and once we got that goal we were creating some scoring chances.”
The Huskies took a 1-0 lead at 19:20 in the first with Louis Liotti’s four-on-four goal. Liotti shot from the top of the slot, the puck hit Big Red defender Taylor Davenport’s stick, took a bounce and deflected through traffic to the Cornell net and past Ben Scrivens — who didn’t have much of a look at the shot — on the stick side.
NU was up 2-0 at 9:21 in the second when Steve Silva scored from Chris Donovan. Donovan intercepted the puck in the Huskies zone and passed up to Silva, who skated in alone and up the middle on Scrivens, lifting the puck up and over Scrivens’ right shoulder for the 2-0 lead.
“A 2-0 lead in the national tournament’s a pretty good lead,” said Northeastern’s Joe Vitale. “We kept telling guys to stay on the attack, though. I think we did a pretty good job of that.”
But when Gallagher scored at 17:58 in the second to bring the Big Red within one, Cornell awakened and finished the game on a mission, outshooting the Huskies 14-4 in the third and netting those three unanswered goals to win.
On Gallagher’s goal, Colin Greening fished the puck out from behind the Northeastern net and passed out front to Gallagher, who shot from between the circles through traffic to beat NU netminder Brad Thiessen up high.
At 16:04 in the third, Barlow fed Greening between the circles on the Cornell power play and Greening tipped it in — backhanded and quick — to knot the game.
“Our power play, we talked about in the locker room,” said Schafer. “Percentages really don’t mean a lot. We struggled earlier in the night and we talked about how it comes a time [that] the power play has to have the opportunity to score. Great shot by Evan and a great tip in front of the net by Colin.”
In the final minute of play, Riley Nash set up the game-winning goal while prone to the ice in the slot. Gallagher passed from the far side of the right circle to Nash, who lost his edge but managed to leave the puck for Barlow crashing in.
“Blake Gallagher did a great job of streaking down the right side,” said Barlow. “He was getting squeezed off by two Northeastern players and he made a nice pass into Riley Nash. Riley protected the puck very well … and did a great job of laying it back to me.
“Originally, I was heading up high blocker, but then that Northeastern player slid and I just had to get the puck by him and that opened up Thiessen and the rest is history.”
Gallagher, who has a high ankle injury, wasn’t even listed in Cornell’s line chart before the game. He was mentioned as warming up before the game, but the decision to play him came at game time, said Schafer.
“Give that kid a lot of credit,” said Schafer. “On Monday or Tuesday, there was absolutely no way he was going to play. He had an MRI and that showed no significant damage and he just gutted it out. He’ll be a game-time decision again tomorrow night.”
The Huskies end their season 25-12-4. Cornell (22-9-4) advances to the final of the Midwest Regional. The puck drops for that game at 8:05 Sunday night.