Kayla Shiao/WRBB Sports File

STORRS, Conn. — If there’s one thing Northeastern has proven over the past six weeks, it’s that frustrating losses have only further emboldened them to stick to their same process, trusting that the results will soon follow.

That same pattern proved itself against UConn: For the third consecutive weekend, Northeastern dropped the series opener on Friday after falling behind 2-0 in the first period, only to respond the following day by building an early lead and rolling to a multi-goal victory. 

On Saturday, Northeastern stamped a 4-2 win over UConn at Toscano Family Ice Forum, despite getting outshot 40-24. The victory was Northeastern’s ninth in their past 12 games, improving their record to 16-15-2 (9-14-0 Hockey East) with just one regular season contest remaining before the all-important Hockey East tournament.

“We’ve been faced with just about everything this year, and we’re definitely battle tested. I think when our backs are against the wall, we’ve played our best hockey,” said Northeastern captain Justin Hryckowian. “We want to finish the regular season strong, obviously, but I think we have that playoff matchup in the back of our heads, and we’re gearing up to go on a little run here.” 

It was another banner game for Northeastern’s top line, special teams, and goaltender Cameron Whitehead — a formula that has served the Huskies well in recent weeks. But the margin for close-but-not-enough results is about to run out come postseason time, and there are still areas to be tinkered with. 

Here are nine thoughts for the Huskies’ ninth Hockey East victory:

1. Much like last weekend’s series-opening loss to Maine, Northeastern knew they played far better against UConn on Friday than the losing 4-3 scoreline indicated — and with 24 hours to regroup, they needed to start much quicker in Game Two. 

While UConn controlled much of the play over the game’s first 10 minutes, Northeastern got on the board first behind a Dylan Hryckowian rebound finish of Alex Campbell’s tight-area shot.

“When we got the first goal, it was a different game,” said Northeastern coach Jerry Keefe. “Last night, we played well, but we were chasing the game the whole night. So getting the lead, we were able to really keep pushing and set the tone.” 

The goal was a reminder of how important patience is — both for Dylan Hryckowian himself, who has been extremely snakebitten, and for Northeastern’s entire top line, who had a number of near-misses on Friday despite logging outstanding shifts all game.

2. That first line of Justin Hryckowian, Dylan Hryckowian, and Alex Campbell is playing at an incredibly high level right now, winning the puck and pressuring the opposing defense on virtually every shift. Since the trio was first assembled against Merrimack on Jan. 26 — 12 games ago — they have accounted for 13 of Northeastern’s 24 even-strength goals. If anything, that total could be even higher.

The trio creates pressure by finishing checks and consistently winning and retrieving pucks, and then connecting on stretch passes to hit either Dylan Hryckowian or Campell in-stride through the neutral zone. Justin Hryckowian’s poise and patience to deliver those feeds, handle the puck, or slip in as the trailer and make use of drop passes helps maximize the skillsets of his two linemates, who in turn have the speed to collapse the defense. 

“Our line is clicking on all cylinders right now,” Justin Hryckowian said. “Ever since I think the Merrimack weekend, it’s just been going really well. I think those two, [Campbell and Dylan Hryckowian], I mean, they’re so fast and I think all three of us really hunt pucks and we check for our offense. We’re really on the same page in that sense, and we want to establish our game down low. And obviously their speed throughout the neutral zone allows us to do that.”

3. In addition, the top line is giving up few opportunities on the other end because of how detailed all three players are defensively and on breakouts. While plus/minus is a flawed stat without context, Justin Hryckowian being +22 this season — easily the highest on the team — is not an accident. 

That detail-oriented mindset has translated across the entire roster, and those detail mistakes which plagued the team months ago have mostly been absent of late. That helps explain why Cameron Whitehead’s job has been made slightly easier, despite his total save count remaining high. 

“They’re playing the game the right way. It’s that simple,” Keefe said. “It’s having really good details, and when you’re tracking back into your own end, having patience. When they’re doing a really good job, it all starts with defending when you don’t have the puck and working to get it back. And right now, they’re turning a lot of their checks into offense.”

4. Northeastern’s power play has quietly risen to 24.5% this season, which is third in Hockey East behind only BC and BU. The Huskies have scored on the power play in each of their past three games, and the unit has become a legitimate weapon.

Northeastern is currently running two evenly-distributed power-play units, with one anchored around Campbell, Dylan Hryckowian, and Pito Walton, and the other with Cam Lund, Jack Williams, and Vinny Borgesi. The common denominator has been that Justin Hryckowian is playing in the middle of both units whenever possible — at times even remaining out on extended shifts while the rest of the line exits for a change. 

The two even-unit approach to the power play puts Northeastern’s star forwards in better positions to succeed. For example, Borgesi can work the puck laterally to yield room for Williams’ one-timers and Lund to create with the puck, while Walton can work in long-range shots to generate dirty-area rebounds for the Hryckowian brothers and Campbell to clean up. 

“There are going to be times where we leave [Hryckowian] out with both units, depending on the situation, if he’s fresh, he’ll probably stay,” Keefe said. “We like both units because we feel like it creates competition and also, they’re different-looking units. So from a pre-scout standpoint, it’s probably hard on teams to figure out exactly what we’re doing. They’ve got to scout two different units, and they both kind of have different looks.”

5. Justin Hryckowian’s role in front of the net remains relatively similar on both units — however, how those pucks get to the doorstep looks different depending on which unit is out there with him.

“I’ve been in the middle man spot on the power play ever since I’ve gotten here, so my approach is similar regardless,” Hryckowian said. “Coach Keefe has done a great job coaching it, and I’ve watched a lot of film on Zach Solow and Nolan Stephens, who did a really good job in that middle spot before I got here.”

Take Hryckowian’s last two power-play goals, one to open the scoring last Saturday against Maine, and the other this Saturday against UConn. 

In the UConn example, Hryckowian pots in the rebound after Walton rolled into the high slot and blasted a clean shot, with both Hryckowian brothers crashing the net hard in search of a rebound. 

But against Maine last weekend, Hryckowian again scored on a tap-in in front of the goal, which was all set up because of a beautiful cross-ice pass from Williams to Lund, who in turn had enough space to draw out the defense and free up Hryckowian in front.  

“I think we have a lot of threats coming from the outside,” Hryckowian said of the power play. “I think Williams’ one-timers have become a huge weapon for us, and teams have to really respect that similar to [Aidan McDonough’s] last year. When you know that shots are coming in, they’re going to have to cheat a little more and give up other stuff. So now we kind of have more threats coming from everywhere, and that frees up space.”

6. Ever since gritty freshman Billy Norcross returned from a nine-game injury absence three weeks ago, finding an identity and rhythm in the bottom six has been among the biggest questions facing Northeastern.

While the staff has continued tinkering with combinations — over the past five games, Matt DeMellis and Liam Walsh have been split up as centers on their respective third and fourth lines after previously playing together — this weekend, they settled on consistent lines across both games.

DeMelis continues to bring Northeastern consistently smart and detailed play on the third line, handling incoming pressure by always making the right pass and making an impact defensively. In addition, Norcross, who is still in search of his first career goal, continues to stir up traffic and apply forechecking pressure, while also honing some of his details post-injury. 

On the fourth line, pairing hungry freshmen forwards Eli Sebastian and Andy Moore with the veteran Walsh paid dividends, with Walsh scoring his first goal since Nov. 26 on Saturday on a breakaway set up by his linesmates.

7. Matt Choupani opened the season on the top line alongside Alex Campbell and Justin Hryckowian, and the team had high expectations for his junior-season leap. 

However, throughout the year — with a month-long injury absence during the first semester — Choupani has consistently fallen further and further on the depth chart. Now, he’s been scratched in two of the past three games. 

He was listed as the extra skater on Saturday and (by my count) logged just a single shift. While his offensive skill set should translate to the bottom six on virtually any Hockey East roster, Keefe emphasized that his lack of playing time was more circumstantial.

“He’s healthy,” Keefe said. “Just right now, you know, when he did come out, we feel like [Norcross], [Sebastian], [Moore], and Edwards, that those guys right now are playing really well. So, you know, Choupani is a really good player. It’s just a matter of again, finding the right matchups.” 

8. While Northeastern’s top five defenseman are well established and playing big minutes, whether or not the staff will even trust a sixth defender to play postseason minutes is a legitimate question.

This weekend, freshmen defensemen Michael Fisher and Nolan Hayes, who have played a combined 50 games this season, were healthy scratches in both games. Instead, Northeastern opted for junior Braden Doyle as the sixth defender on Friday, and graduate senior Patrick Dawson on Saturday — though neither got their full allotment of shifts or made a noticeable impact.

“It’s just different matchups, every game kind of looking at different things,” Keefe said of the thought process for filling out the bottom defensive pair. “We’ve got a lot of guys back there that we feel like we have confidence in, so it’s just kind of finding the right guy for the opponent we’re playing.”

9. Northeastern is playing close to an NCAA tournament level in the past six weeks, but will not receive an at-large bid due to their damaging first-semester losing skid as the team battled injuries and finishing struggles. 

With the Hockey East tournament fast-approaching, the Huskies path is extremely difficult — it will require at least one road victory against one of BC, BU, or Maine, in addition to three other victories. The circumstance is far from ideal, but Northeastern can only control what they control.

“I’d like to think our group is ready to go,” Justin Hryckowian said. “For a lot of guys, this is going to be their last year in college, and we want to make it happen for those guys. I think our depth is looking really good. Obviously, our top two lines have been clicking, and the D-core is putting it together and Whitehead is a stud in net. I like our chances against anybody.”

Northeastern’s regular season finale comes next Saturday, when they travel to Schneider Arena to face Providence. Stay tuned for WRBB’s live coverage.