BOSTON — After a season filled with ups, downs, and razor-tight margins, Northeastern is finally playing their best hockey when it matters most.
Following Friday’s 2-2 tie and shootout victory against UConn, the leader in the Hockey East standings, Northeastern delivered an impressive 4-0 beatdown of Maine on Saturday at Matthews Arena. The victory improved the Huskies’ record to 21-9-2 (14-7-2 Hockey East) and extended their streak to 10 games without a loss — enough to move into a tie for second in the league standings.
“We’ve been striving to play a full 60 [minutes] this whole season, and I think that’s probably one of the few that we’ve finally strung together,” said Northeastern captain Megan Carter. “It just kind of shows how we’re really coming together as a team and building momentum going into playoffs.”
As recently as last weekend’s series against UNH, where the Huskies scraped out overtime wins in both games following third-period comebacks, Northeastern was finding ways to win while still not playing at their best. Even amid their recent upturn in results, Saturday’s performance was among their most complete efforts — it was only their second multi-goal victory over the 10-game streak.
Northeastern came to play from the start on Saturday, outshooting Maine 17-7 in the first period. They worked clean breakouts, and maintained puck possession behind sharp passing, strong forechecking, and terrific efforts by defenders to hold the offensive blue line and wire shots towards the middle.
“The first period I think was the best period we’ve seen from our team in a while,” said Northeastern assistant coach Lindsay Berman. “They came out flying. We were moving the puck really well.”
The Huskies got on the board just four minutes into play with Katy Knoll’s power play goal. The initial blast was sent in by defender Jules Constinople from the right circle, and following the first rebound effort by forward Peyton Anderson, Knoll dug away the loose puck in the crease and hammered in home.
Knoll’s dirty-area goal was the perfect embodiment of Northeastern’s power play at its best — the puck running through the two defenders positioned up high, and the forwards getting to the netfront for finishing opportunities. While the power play failed to ever get extended O-zone time on Friday facing UConn’s penalty kill, against Maine, the Huskies did a far better job getting the puck to their defenders with space to operate.
“There’s two things with having two defenders out there [on the power play] — they distribute the puck really well and they also have heavy shots. So we’re looking for them to do both of those and read the play well enough to decide which one to do,” Berman said. “So we’re happy to get a power play goal tonight, we’ve been needing that and it’s been looking really good in practice. For them to get rewarded in the game is really helpful.”
After dominating the first period action and launching a series of near-misses, Northeastern’s relentless attack was rewarded by a slightly fluky goal from Skylar Irving with two minutes remaining in the opening frame, with the puck bouncing off a Maine defender and fluttering into the back of the net.
While Maine had a better response out of the intermission — in the second period, shots on goal were just 11-10 in favor of Northeastern — the Huskies still controlled play and got the superior looks. Four minutes into the frame, Irving added her second score on a clean snipe in transition. There was nothing fluky on this goal; just a beautifully executed transition rush and nice finish in space.
As the game wore on, Northeastern’s ability to win loose pucks in the neutral zone and on the forecheck shined. While Maine has Hockey East’s two leading goal scorers, Ann-Federique Guay (19 goals) and Ida Kuoppala (18 goals), they combined for just three shots on goal and rarely got space in their offensive end. And even on the rare occasions when Maine did work an O-zone cycle, Northeastern excelled at getting sticks in passing and shooting lanes, finishing the game with X blocks.
Holding a three-goal lead in the third period, Northeastern’s staff gave increased run to the bottom six, and in particular, the fourth line of center Lily Shannon and wingers Avery Anderson and Peyton Compton.
The sophomore Anderson, playing just her 14th career game on Saturday, has been swapping in and out with senior Molly Griffin on the bottom line in recent games. But on Saturday, all three players were aggressive and gritty on the forecheck and were composed in the neutral zone — exactly the spark Northeastern needs from their fourth line.
“They got a shoutout from their teammates in the locker room tonight,” Berman said of the fourth line. “They were just competing really hard and really good on the forecheck and getting pucks out of our zones. They were responsible defensively, and added to the offense. We were hoping they were gonna get [a goal] there at the end. But they deserved every shift that they got.”
Megan Carter capped off Northeastern’s terrific night with an empty netter, which was her first goal of the season. She’d nearly scored earlier in the period, with a point shot that was nestled at the goal line before being pushed wide.
“Oh man, I had my hands up in the air [on the near-miss]. I didn’t even care. Just to see it on the goal line, it’s right there. But obviously really excited to get the monkey off my back.”
While Northeastern still has four regular-season games remaining and will look to defend their sixth-consecutive Hockey East tournament title later this month, Saturday’s thorough victory over Maine proved that top-to-bottom, Northeastern is playing at its best come crunch time. And while there’s still plenty of work to be done, their goals are still ahead of them.
Northeastern will take on Boston College in a home-and-home next weekend, beginning with a matchup at Conte Forum on Friday at 2 p.m. Stay tuned for full details on WRBB’s coverage.