BOSTON — Coming into Saturday night’s game against Massachusetts, Northeastern was unbeaten in 12 of its last 13 games.
The Huskies can credit a portion of that success to the power play.
Clicking at a 25.6 percent pace in their last 12 games entering Saturday (the seventh highest clip in the nation during that span), the Huskies were handed seven more opportunities on a silver platter in the second matchup of a home-and-home between the two teams, and Northeastern made sure to make the most of it.
Behind three goals on the man-advantage and one more even strength, the Huskies, once 1-11-2, improved to 12-13-5 on the year and took control of sixth place in Hockey East with a 4-2 win over Massachusetts (8-19-4, 2-14-4).
“That was a big focus going into tonight’s game,” said forward Nolan Stevens of the team’s work on the power play. “Just keep it simple and get pucks on net, and I think we did a good job of being patient, waiting for seams to open up, and being opportunistic when the scoring chances came.”
Penalties were the story of the game from the get-go, with 44 total minutes assessed between the two teams, including a 10-minute misconduct on UMass at the end of the second period that resulted in the ejection of Minutemen coach John Micheletto.
After five different Huskies scored in the team’s 5-0 route over UMass Friday night, balanced scoring was a continued theme on Saturday, with three different Huskies lighting the lamp. Stevens scored two for Northeastern.
“I didn’t think we had the same mentality or mindset we had going into the game yesterday,” said Northeastern coach Jim Madigan. “I thought we cheated a little bit thinking it was going to be a little bit easier than what it is. In this league, every opponent you play is good and you can’t look at records.
“Last night’s game was a 5-0 win and I think we thought it was going to be a little bit easier, particularly when we went up 2-0 early, our details and habits suffered a little bit.”
Northeastern got the scoring going at the 7:08 mark of the first period, courtesy of a power-play goal by Garret Cockerill, who upped his point streak to three games. With Austin Plevy off for hooking and the Huskies cycling the puck in their offensive zone, Dylan Sikura sent the puck across the blue line to Cockerill, who one-timed it past UMass goalie Alex Wakaluk (25 saves).
Continuing to pressure the Minutemen in their offensive zone, it took just over four minutes for Northeastern to extend the lead to two.
Playing down on the goal line in Northeastern’s offensive zone, John Stevens found his brother, Nolan, streaking in the slot and hit him with a pass that he one-timed past the glove of Wakaluk.
“We’ve been working on reading off each other,” said Nolan Stevens. “I saw him coming down the boards, so I left it for him and then I just tried to beat my guy to the net and he made a good move on his guy to get loose, and he just fed it to me and it sweeped through the goalie’s arm.”
Instead of rolling over, UMass fought back, cutting the deficit to one with just under five minutes to go in the frame.
Skating through the neutral zone into attacking territory, Ray Pigozzi sent a puck down low, in what initially looked like an easy save for Northeastern netminder Ryan Ruck (28 saves). Out of nowhere, Anthony Petrella flew down the right side of the ice, screening Ruck and tipping the puck past him for his second goal of the season.
With a renewed sense of urgency on both sides following the goal, the play got chippy, resulting in a Kurt Keats boarding penalty at 18:48, and matching roughing penalties between Nolan Stevens and William Lagesson as time expired in the first.
Entering the second period with a bit more energy than the first, the Minutemen controlled time of possession for the opening five minutes, and finally at the 5:53 mark were able to get something to show for it via Maddison Smiley’s first of the season.
Cutting to the slot, Smiley received a pass from Joseph Widmar and tucked it under the glove of Ruck to tie the game at two.
From there, penalties continued to kill any momentum UMass briefly possessed, including when Ben Gallacher and Callum Fryer were both sent off simultaneously with just under seven minutes to go in the second giving Northeastern a five-on-three advantage.
The Huskies made relatively quick work of the two-man advantage, scoring just 36 seconds later to up their lead to 3-2. Playing along the left faceoff dot, Adam Gaudette cycled the puck to Matt Benning at the point. Looking for the open man, Benning tossed it over to Nolan Stevens at the right dot, who proceeded to shoot it top shelf for his 13th of the season.
Both teams continued to trade penalties in the third period, with Northeastern taking four and UMass whistled for three. With play continually being stopped to send someone to the box, neither team could get much rhythm until Zach Aston-Reese beat Wakaluk with just over three minutes to go.
Once again Nolan and John Stevens were moving the puck between each from high to low, when Aston-Reese found an opening along the right faceoff dot. John Stevens quickly shuffled a pass down to him, who then fired it top shelf to give Northeastern the 4-2 lead.
“I thought our power play was excellent,” said Madigan. “I thought or penalty kill was excellent today. Our special teams did the job for us; they won the game for us here tonight.”
“One of the players said coming into the locker room after the game, ‘Hey, not pretty, but we found a way to win,’ and that’s what it amounts to. Two points are hard to come by, particularly this time in the season.”