BOSTON — Just over three months ago, Northeastern and New Hampshire skated to a scoreless draw in a back-and-forth classic at Matthews Arena — one of the most dynamic games the Huskies have played here all season. This game was not nearly as thrilling for Northeastern, as the No. 3 Wildcats were precise in converting their scoring chances to grab a 3-1 win on Friday night.
The Wildcats scored back-to-back goals within 44 seconds early in the second period, giving them all the offense they would need. Casey DeSmith delivered a superb performance, as the sophomore posted 47 saves and rarely looked uncomfortable in backstopping the Wildcats to his 15th win on the season.
“We had a couple rough games; it’s a tough thing to bounce back, but I’ve definitely felt good the last couple of games,” DeSmith said, noting that his confidence has been renewed thanks to strong play from teammates in front of him. In the two games since sitting out in favor of backup Jeff Wyer, DeSmith has totaled 82 saves and allowed only three goals.
“Casey’s back playing well, he’s done that the last couple of games, and the team is battling hard in front of him,” UNH coach Dick Umile said, adding that the goal was to keep the Huskies’ shots to the outside.
In the first period, the Wildcats absorbed much of the early pressure from Northeastern, which outshot UNH in every period. While they average 34.1 shots per game this season, the Wildcats were limited to just 27 shots on goal on Friday, using short bursts to capitalize on their chances.
Their back-to-back strikes in the second period started at 4:01 with Grayson Downing, who pocketed his 10th goal of the season alone in front of the net after Huskies netminder Chris Rawlings (24 saves) was taken out of position on a rebound.
The lead doubled in the blink of an eye at 4:45 when Eric Knodel walked in from the blue line and sniped the top right corner of the net, giving the Wildcats a 2-0 lead and forcing a timeout from the Northeastern bench.
Despite a nervous moment out of the timeout when a Kevin Goumas shot hit the bottom of the crossbar, the Huskies were able to calm the game down and answer back at 7:25 when Colton Saucerman flipped the puck to Kevin Roy on the goal line, whose stuff-in try created a rebound for Vinny Saponari to knock in for his fifth goal of the season.
After the Wildcats extended the lead to 3-1 early in the third period on a John Henrion power-play goal, it seemed like they would be able to coast to the win. However, a late Dan Correale tripping penalty gave the Huskies one last look on a six-on-four power-play attempt. It proved to be inconsequential, as the Wildcats summarily shut down the ensuing Huskies power play.
“The penalty kill came in huge… We were making it difficult for ourselves, to be quite honest, with the back-to-back penalties,” Umile said, “I thought we boxed it up [well], did a good job blocking shots and keeping them to the outside.”
The loss extended Northeastern’s winless drought at home to seven games, the longest in nine seasons for the club. After the game, Northeastern coach Jim Madigan lamented the “malaise” his team showed in front of the home crowd of 2,663.
“I didn’t think there was enough energy to come out in our own building,” Madigan said, “It used to be a tough place for people to come in and play. It’s something that we’re cognizant of.”
Making matters worse for Northeastern was the revelation that forward Ludwig Karlsson, a key part of the Huskies’ top line, had re-aggravated an upper-body injury late in the game. It was the first game action for Karlsson since an injury forced him to sit out the entire month of January. His status was unknown for Monday’s Beanpot semifinal against Boston University.