BOSTON – When the dust cleared Sunday night at Agganis Arena and sixth-seeded Northeastern moved onto the Hockey East semifinals, the Huskies faithful took a very deep breath. That’s nothing new for the fans from Huntington Avenue.
Northeastern, which scored an empty-net goal to 2:14 remaining in regulation to take a 5-2 lead in game three of the best-of-three series with Boston University, then had to endure a near comeback by the Terriers. BU scored twice in the final 82 seconds to pull within a goal and have one last chance.
The Huskies finally walked away victors in a game that, in a way, became a mirror image of the season this team has endured.
We’ll refresh some memories: A horrid 1-7-2 start was followed by a midseason turnaround that had the Huntington Hounds playing solid hockey heading to the Beanpot. After a heartbreaking loss to Boston College in overtime of the Beanpot final, four days later the school suspended head coach Greg Cronin for recruiting violations.
That probably should’ve signaled Northeastern epitaph. Losing the biggest game of the year, losing your coach and then having to close the regular season with three nationally-ranked teams: Boston College, New Hampshire and Boston University. Write the swan song, this season was over.
But instead of hanging it up, the Huskies hung in there.
Enter this weekend’s quarterfinal series against BU. Northeastern won convincingly on Thursday to take a lead but played horribly the next night giving BU all the momentum coming into Sunday.
Many again thought game over. Write the obituary now, albeit a gentler one that would’ve been written three-plus weeks earlier.
But Sunday was Northeastern’s day, or so it seemed. Every time the Terriers tried to gain control, the Huskies showed they were the dogs with more bark.
That said, the nervous closing seconds kept the Huskies from ever really being able to celebrate until the buzzer went off. And even then, Northeastern was told by the referees to head to the locker room, foregoing the post-game hand shake. That was something neither Cronin nor Parker could understand given the fact that, despite having played five straight games against one another, there wasn’t an impending doomsday.
Regardless, the season of roller coasters now sits at the top for the Huskies. This is a team that hungers for more, which they’ll get Friday at 5 p.m. when they faceoff against top seed Boston College on the same stage in which this whole drama began during the Beanpot final.
After Sunday’s game, Cronin talked about his team’s “mettle” to fight through the final weeks. He compared his team to the Pittsburgh Steelers, quoting Rod Woodson.
“[Woodson] was talking about the locker room and Pittsburgh and he said, ‘You know you’ve got a team when you don’t need the coach to give you direction.’ That’s the mentality these guys have taken on.
“Sebastien [Laplante] was on his own in the worst stretch of games in college hockey period. The team is mature enough to understand that. I knew then that we could do well in the playoffs. Particularly on the heels of the Beanpot which may have been one of the best college games in a long time.”
Now Cronin’s Huskies will have the chance to relive that game on Friday night where, if there is a reversal in outcomes this time around, the Huskies will be playing for the Hockey East title for the first time since winning the school’s only title in 1988. The majority of the Northeastern players weren’t even born when that occurred and those who were likely hadn’t been on skates.
Furthermore, should Northeastern continue their Cinderella/Cardiac Kids/Steven-Tyler-Livin’-on-the-Edge type of season we will be telling the story of the 2011 Huskies for years to come.