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Northeastern faced a familiar playoff foe in Merrimack for their Hockey East quarterfinals matchup, playing the Warriors for the third consecutive year in this round of the conference playoffs. The prior two matchups went Northeastern’s way, and history repeated itself thrice at Matthews Arena, with the Huskies taking a hard-fought 4-1 victory into the next stage of the postseason.

However, while the score may indicate a comfortable victory, the game could have been smoother sailing for the Huskies, especially starting off. After the first 20 minutes of play, they only managed to muster up four shots on the goal of sophomore Calli Hogarth, with the Warriors sending double that count toward Northeastern netminder Gwyneth Philips. While on an individual basis Northeastern hadn’t made too many errors, the team lacked unity on the ice and struggled to find open shooting lanes.

“Slow start for us tonight,” said Northeastern assistant head coach Lindsay Berman. “For whatever reason, we just needed to wake up. [Head coach Dave] Flint talked about it during intermission, that we were outshot pretty severely. The focus was to get to the middle of the ice and get pucks on the net. Our group did a good job at refocusing.”

The start of the second period marked another misstep from the Huskies, as just under a minute and a half into the frame, sophomore forward Alex Ferguson rifled a shot that just barely glanced off of Philips’ shoulder and into the back of the goal, giving the Warriors a headstart in scoring.

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But Ferguson’s goal was the igniter that Northeastern needed, as the team that took to the ice for the remainder of the second period was a completely different one from before. Throughout the second period, they quadrupled their shot count from the first, sending 20 pucks Hogarth’s way. Their relentless pace picked up, and the Huskies that had been so dominant throughout 2024 had returned.

“After that goal, we just had to come out hard,” said junior forward Skylar Irving following the game. “We weren’t going to stop, we just had to put our foot down, put our heads down, and just grind one out from there. We didn’t come out hot in the first period, so when that happened, it was like, ‘Okay, we need to have a check, pick up energy, pick up doing little things right.’ After that, I thought we were able to go from there.”

Irving, who centers Northeastern’s top line, decided to take scoring matters into her own hands, a story that has been seen time and time again from her this season. After carrying the puck through neutral territory six minutes into the second period, she sliced her way through the offensive zone on her own and sent a snipe into the far side of the goal to equalize. It was a familiar sight for the lightning-fast Irving, whose speed has been such an asset throughout her entire time at Northeastern.

“We were moving the puck quick, that’s what we do best,” Irving said. “We’re a fast team, so when we’re able to utilize our speed, good things happen, and that play was a perfect example of it.”

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Northeastern continued with their momentum, even with freshman forward Peyton Compton taking a roughing penalty halfway through the second period. Throughout the two minutes on the penalty kill, the Huskies still remained the dominant team, with fifth-year forward Katy Knoll knocking on Hogarth’s door with every shorthanded chance she could find.

Ultimately, it would not come on the penalty kill, but in the same location from which Irving scored her goal, seconds after Compton was freed from the sin bin, Knoll drove her way towards Hogarth, and even with her stick getting lifted in the process, was able to find a way to slot the puck through Hogarth’s five-hole, giving Northeastern a 2-1 lead.

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As the game clock ticked on, it became more and more apparent that the Huskies were simply outworking the Warriors on the ice. Northeastern put together a lineup of four complete offensive lines, while Merrimack relied heavily on their top players, their fourth line not stepping foot on the ice throughout the entire game.

The Warriors’ exhaustion hit new heights in the third period, while the Huskies’ depth sang. Northeastern got increasingly more zone time as they generated turnover after turnover on the forecheck, trapping Merrimack in their defensive zone.

With five minutes remaining in the game, sophomore forwards Holly Abela and Lily Shannon stole the puck from the Warriors just in front of Hogarth’s crease, and while it took a moment for them to get control of the puck, Shannon spotted a waiting Ella Blackmore on the doorstep. All the freshman needed to do to score was elevate the puck over Hogarth’s pads, and suddenly, Northeastern could breathe, holding a two-goal lead in the waning moments of the game.

“At the beginning of the play, we kind of fumbled the puck down low, but eventually we got a grip on the puck and I saw [Blackmore] in front of the net,” said Shannon. “The emotions were awesome because it was a close game, and I think that goal definitely sealed the game up.”

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Shannon received both the coaches’ and team’s internal awards after the game, and Berman credits a lot of Northeastern’s game to the way their depth chart has stepped up in big moments.

“The depth that they give us, we wouldn’t be where we are today without that. That line has been buzzing all week, so we were really happy to see that they had a great night. That goal was huge. We could all breathe after that… For those guys to get rewarded there, we’re really happy for them.”

With just under two minutes remaining in play and Hogarth off the ice in a last-ditch attempt for the Warriors, Irving was able to bounce the puck off the post and into the back of the empty net from the neutral zone to cap off a 4-1 performance that, while it may have started slowly, was a great momentum-builder for the Huskies, signifying the battle-back mentality of the Hockey East No. 2 seed.

Northeastern’s next bridge to cross on their quest for their seventh consecutive Hockey East title lies ahead on Wednesday, where they are due to take on the UNH Wildcats at Matthews Arena. And even though it’s championship or bust for the Huskies, they relish the challenge and the pressure that comes with the postseason.

“Pressure is a privilege, at the end of the day,” said Irving. “It’s awesome to be able to have pressure on you, and when the pressure’s on, anything can happen… We have what it takes to win games, we have what it takes to win the tournament.”

WRBB Sports will provide full radio and written coverage of Wednesday’s Hockey East semifinals vs. UNH at Matthews Arena. Stay tuned for information on puck drop.