BOSTON — One night after being in an absolute dogfight from beginning to end, the Northeastern Huskies and their faithful breathed a bit easier on Saturday night.
The second-seeded Huskies exploded for two goals in the first period and four more in the second to romp past eighth-seed Massachusetts, 7-2, to earn a sweep of the Hockey East quarterfinal series and advance to the TD Garden for the second time in three years.
Northeastern captured its first title since 1988 two seasons ago, the last time it advanced past the quarterfinal round.
“It took us five years to get to the Garden,” said Northeastern coach Jim Madigan, who took the reins of the Northeastern program in 2011. “It’s a privilege to get to the Garden and represent this league, because the top four teams in this league are really good. If you see the score last night and all but our game tonight, they were all one goal [games].”
The game ended up a milestone game for Northeastern’s Adam Gaudette as the Hobey Baker front-runner notched a second-period goal that was his nation’s best 30th of the season. He is just the 11th player in the history of Northeastern hockey to hit the 30-goal mark in a season.
“My linemates and I, we work on things that will happen in the game all the time,” said Gaudette, who said the shot he took for his 30th goal was something he worked on with Dylan Sikura all week after practice. “I couldn’t do it without them. After practice, we just work together and little things like that just contribute. I don’t think people know how much that helps.”
After Friday’s victory, Northeastern knew that closing out the series on Saturday might not only punched their ticket to TD Garden, but also would likely sew up an NCAA bid. With that, they wasted little time jumping on the Minutemen.
Defenseman Jemery Davies opened the scoring at 3:42, taking a pass on the rush, cutting to the slot, and burying a shot five-hole on Ryan Wischow (14 saves).
It looked like UMass might escape the first down just a goal, but a hustle play behind the net by Lincoln Griffin from his knees led to a set up for Stevens, who buried his first of the night with 30.9 seconds remaining.
In the second period, as UMass looked to climb back from a two-goal deficit for the fourth time this postseason, the Huskies offense exploded, starting with Gaudette. He one-timed his milestone goal from a seemingly zero-sum angle as the Huskies worked the puck beautifully around the zone at 3:21.
“The second goal was a big goal because [UMass] had us on the ropes in the first,” said Madigan. “They were beating us on pucks. Then a really good second effort on that second goal. Lincoln Griffin is on all fours, and he sweeps it out front and who’s in front of the net but a guy who can score. Stevens was there.
“But when we got the third one early in that period — it was really good puck movement — it gave us a little more running room there. And they kept on piling at that point.”
Piling they did.
Dylan Sikura stole a puck during a four-on-four and skated in alone, firing a puck off the post and in at 10:47. Hawkins on a two-on-zero and Stevens for the second time of the night, this on the power play, gave the Huskies an ample cushion heading to the third.
Wischow was relieved by Brad Arvanitis (seven saves) at the start of the third.
In the third, UMass scored twice, sandwiching goals by Niko Rufo and Brett Boeing around a tally by Northeastern’s Griffin.
Northeastern reaches the semifinals for the ninth time overall and is in search of its third Hockey East title. They will face Providence in the second semifinal on Friday. Boston University and Boston College will play in the early semifinal beginning at 5 p.m. EDT.
For UMass, the loss is bittersweet. The Minutemen finish a strong turnaround season; having won five games a year ago, they finished 17-20-2, a 12-win improvement. That isn’t lost on coach Greg Carvel.
“The second period, things got away from us,” said Carvel. “Ultimately, we tried to control the big line [for Northeastern], and that’s hard to do.
“I’ve very proud of my team. I’m very excited for the future of the program. We took very big steps this year.”