BOSTON — Every three years, the Beanpot rotation affords Harvard and Northeastern the rare opportunity to earn bragging rights in the local tournament. Considering that the teams have combined for less than a quarter of all Beanpot championships, their fans expected a thriller — or, at least, a slugfest — in the early game of the 2011 Beanpot semifinals.
The faithful few who flocked to the TD Garden — mostly Huskies fans — were rewarded with a 4-0 shutout of the fledgling Crimson but were forced to endure one of the most uninspired efforts, at least on Harvard’s end, in the tournament’s storied history.
“Give Northeastern a lot of credit,” Harvard coach Ted Donato said. “I think we are, obviously, very disappointed. I felt we were playing some pretty good hockey coming in, even though we weren’t scoring enough goals to produce victories, but tonight was frustrating.”
Northeastern needed nothing more than junior center Mike McLaughlin’s offensive outburst to seal the Crimson’s 12th consolation game appearance in 13 years. McLaughlin netted a pair of goals — and came within inches of his first career hat trick — to put the Huskies in the driver’s seat for its fifth tournament win.
At 10:48 in the opening frame, McLaughlin crossed the blue line unchallenged and split the two Harvard blueliners. McLaughlin fired a shot that ricocheted off one of the defenders’ sticks and sailed over Crimson netminder Ryan Carroll’s left pad.
McLaughlin’s game-winner — which came just five seconds after the Crimson’s first unsuccessful power play expired — was precisely the type of backbreaker goal from which Harvard has rarely recovered all season.
Pushed back on its heels, the Crimson simply never recovered from the 1-0 deficit.
McLaughlin added insult to injury with a shot that took a lucky bounce at 1:47 of the second period. He extended the Huskies’ lead to 2-0 when he fired a shot directly into Carroll’s pads but saw it hop over Carroll and into the back of the net.
“I thought we played somewhat of our resemblance of our game in the first period,” Donato said. “But it seemed after their second goal we really couldn’t mount much of an attack after that.”
Aside from hammering the final nail in Harvard’s coffin, McLaughlin’s second tally of the night exorcised one of his demons — the memory of missing an open net that would have tied the game for Northeastern in the eventual 5-2 loss to Boston University in the 2009 Beanpot championship.
In fact, McLaughlin was just shy of notching a trio with just over eight minutes to play in the final frame. When Harvard defender Chris Huxley failed to stop the puck at the blue line on a Crimson power play, McLaughlin swooped in for a short-handed breakaway but could not solve Carroll a third time.
With the floodgates open, the Huskies took full advantage of a Crimson squad that looked more eager to hit the showers than vie for a spot in the finals. At 10:53 in the middle stanza, winger Wade MacLeod skated the puck deep in Harvard territory and fired a pass from below the right circle to center Steve Silva, who launched a shot past Carroll in the slot to put Northeastern up 3-0.
Five minutes later, the Huskies concluded their offensive onslaught with what proved to be an unnecessary insurance goal. Tagged with two interference penalties, the Crimson found themselves on the wrong side of a five-on-three for 41 seconds. Harvard’s penalty kill — which holds an 82.9 percent success rate — was no match for Northeastern. Off a pass across the slot from MacLeod, winger Brodie Reed one-timed a slap shot from the left circle past Carroll at 16:19.
The only bright spot for Harvard was late-game replacement Kyle Richter, who stopped all seven of Northeastern’s shots in the final frame.
On the defensive side, Northeastern coach Greg Cronin credited the Huskies victory in large part to sophomore netminder Chris Rawlings, who posted his fourth blanking in six games.
“Defensively, I thought we were good,” Cronin said. “There were some rebounds there, and I thought [Rawlings] was terrific and that is why we won four-zip.”
Rawlings, who owns a .930 save percentage and sixth place in the NCAA rankings, stopped all 41 shots on goal. For the most part, however, the Crimson failed to pepper Rawlings with quality shots. Despite posting a record number of shots on goal, Harvard has the dubious honor of owning the worst offense in the nation — currently 1.86 goals per game. In fact, the Crimson have little success with the shooting gallery effort, posting a meager 1-12 record when recording 30-39 shots on goal.
With the victory, the Huskies look ahead to Valentine’s Day for a chance to upset Boston College for the Beanpot title.