BOSTON — An extra week off of the ice usually results in one of two things. Either the team returns rested and with fewer injuries, or they look sluggish and uneasy.
Northeastern came off their 12-day break with nothing but benefits. They were rested, and the return of Julian Kislin after a four-week absence gave the Husky defense added depth.
Friday’s contest against Providence was critical in determining Northeastern’s destiny in Hockey East and NCAA as a whole. The Friars are always a fierce opponent, and they entered Matthews Arena with only one road loss. That the loss came by four goals against Northeastern guaranteed nothing for Friday night’s game.
Providence sat tied for second in the Hockey East; the Huskies, while only three points behind, sat tied for sixth. If the last few weeks of Hockey East action have taught us anything, it’s that nothing, nothing, is certain. With bottom feeders like UConn and UNH surging, and previous leaders like Northeastern and BU faltering against easier opponents, Hockey East is as wide open as ever.
The game started off slowly for both teams, with no fantastic chances for either side. After about 10 minutes, the Huskies found their footing in the dynamic of the game, and their forward check came into full swing. Northeastern, with the help of Matt Filipe and Zach Solow, put considerable pressure on Providence and its goaltender Mike Lackey. The puck rarely made its way to Northeastern’s side of the ice, and Providence began to tire. That fatigue became most apparent when Tyler Madden forced a turnover in the neutral zone and carried the puck all the way to the goal, putting the Huskies up 1–0.
The Huskies continued to dominate the physical and mental tempo of the game. Only four minutes after Madden’s breakaway goal, Matt Filipe and Matt DeMelis found themselves in a two-on-one rush, and netted another goal for the Huskies.
The period ended with both teams receiving penalties, resulting in a four-on-four that only saw more Northeastern dominance over the puck. The period ended with the Huskies holding onto their 2–0 lead.
As tame as the start of the first period was, the second period was insane. Providence came out with some good looks on net, but Craig Pantano had absolutely none of it, making some difficult saves look trivial.
When two quick Northeastern penalties gave Providence a five-on-three, Mike Kesselring displayed his spectacular stick skills on the penalty kill and willingly put his body on the line. He took a scorching shot high off the arm and was clearly in considerable pain, but fought through until the best opportunity for him to make a change.
Kesselring did not return to the ice for the duration of the kill, and that is perhaps what led to Providence breaking through and putting themselves on the score sheet. Tensions ran high between the two teams, with forwards Greg Printz and Zach Solow exchanging pushes and what could only have been the most pleasant of compliments.
The physicality of the game skyrocketed, with both teams exchanging savage stick slaps and brutal body blows. This culminated with Biagio Lerario’s massive check against Printz right in front of the Providence bench, which drew a five-minute major penalty against and Lerario’s ejection.
The Northeastern penalty kill took the ice and took no prisoners. It didn’t even feel like a penalty kill, as they held Providence to a grand total of zero shots for the first 4:40. The whole PK unit skated their butts off, beating every Friar they could to the puck and making Pantano’s job between the pipes easier. This momentum carried into five-on-five play after the penalty, as Aidan McDonough netted his ninth goal of the season less than a minute later.
McDonough’s goal only made the Friars upset, as they played most of the rest of the period on Northeastern’s side of the ice. Patrick Moynihan forced a turnover right in front of the goal on the forward check, spun, and slipped the puck past Pantano. The tumultuous second period concluded with the Huskies leading 3–2.
Providence dominated the beginning of the third period. The only thing keeping the Friars from tying the game was an admirable performance by Pantano, who went so far as to lay across the ice to keep the puck out of the net. But Jack Dugan made the most of a Providence faceoff win on their offensive side, pounding the puck past Pantano to tie the game.
Northeastern soon went to the power play, but unlike those earlier in the game, the top line of McDonough, Madden, and Jozefek was unable to get things done, and almost allowed a shorthanded goal. The unceremonious power play resulted in the return of Providence dominance, and more amazing saves from Pantano.
With only a quarter of the period remaining, Providence’s Parker Ford was sent to the penalty box for hooking. This Northeastern power play began much like their last, but about halfway through it, they worked the puck into the offensive zone. This kicked off a beautiful sequence of about 20 passes where the power play unit methodically broke down the Friars’ defense, slowly applying pressure and working the puck closer and closer to the net.
Finally, the breakthrough came. Zach Solow found himself, and more importantly, the puck, right in front of the net, after a precise pass by McDonough right to his stick. Solow’s job was made easy and he executed perfectly, placing the puck into the bottom left of the cage, giving the Huskies the lead with only five minutes remaining.
After the game, Providence head coach Nate Leaman expressed his displeasure with his team’s physicality, saying that it “hardly felt like [they] checked anybody all night.” On the flip side of the hockey coin, Northeastern head coach Jim Madigan expressed his pleasure with his team’s approach to the game.
“You can’t sit back and wait for goals to happen,” he said. “You have to go out and earn them against a team like this.”
The Huskies head to TD Garden this Monday to face Harvard in the first game of the Beanpot. Christian Skroce, Matt Neiser, and Dale Desantis will call that one, with coverage beginning at 4:45 PM EST.