Northeastern uses power play to beat Connecticut, sweep weekend series

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BOSTON — Back on Nov. 27, Northeastern was 1-11-2, sitting at the bottom of Hockey East with nothing but disappointment to show for the first half of the season.

Since then, the Huskies are 13-2-3 and have clinched the sixth seed in the conference tournament.

And what a turnaround it has been.

Behind two goals on a five-minute power play and two more in the third, Northeastern was able to keep that momentum going heading into the final weekend of the year, sweeping Connecticut with a 4-1 win at Matthews Arena on Saturday.

“It was a hard-played hockey game,” said Northeastern coach Jim Madigan. “UConn, right from the opening faceoff, came out hard and they play with pace and they’re hard on pucks and it was different tonight than it was last night, that’s for sure, and [we] had to earn everything we got.”

The loss in Connecticut’s (9-19-4, 4-12-4) fourth in a row, keeping them at 10th in Hockey East.

“I think it was a completely different game than last night,” said Connecticut coach Mike Cavanaugh. “I thought we really competed hard for the entire 60 minutes. I thought five-on-five play was pretty even and I thought the advantage was to them in the special teams.

“They were able to capitalize twice on the power play and we only capitalized once. That was the story of the game.”

Unlike Friday night when Northeastern (14-13-5, 8-8-4) potted four first period goals on Connecticut netminder Rob Nichols, the fourth of which got him pulled from the game, the junior saved all seven shots he saw in the opening frame Saturday.

Unfortunately for Connecticut, despite getting some good opportunities in their own zone, so did Northeastern goalie Ryan Ruck, who stopped all seven that came his way.

With both teams looking to get on the board in the second, some chippy play from Friday night’s game carried over, most notably a bone-crushing hit Connecticut defenseman Derek Pratt landed on Zach Aston-Reese, landing Pratt in the box for five minutes.

Sensing an opportunity to draw first blood, Northeastern succinctly entered their offensive zone, cycling the puck around to find the open shot.

Garret Cockerill did just that.

Manning the blue line, the defenseman received a pass from Dylan Sikura, waited for Northeastern to get some traffic around the net, and launched a shot over Nichols’ shoulder for the 1-0 lead.

“[Cockerill] shoots the puck really well and he gets pucks to the net,” said Madigan. “He can snap it off pretty quick. He just snapped it off, there was a little bit of traffic. He’s got the ability to get pucks to the net and that’s what he’s been doing.”

Just 53 seconds later, still on the power play, Northeastern extended their lead to two courtesy of Nolan Stevens’ 15th goal of the year.

With Adam Gaudette controlling the puck on the goal line, Stevens cut to the net receiving a pass right on the middle of his stick that he sent home.

Northeastern continued to control pace of play throughout the second period, but an Aston-Reese charging penalty with under a minute to go gave Connecticut some life.

Just 24 seconds later, Patrick Kirtland saw Tage Thompson winding up for a one-timer from the point, sped to the net, and jammed the rebound past Ruck to make it 2-1.

Northeastern did not take long to answer, scoring less than five minutes into the third period, upping its lead to 3-1.

Skating into the attacking zone, Sam Kurker received a Kevin Roy pass on the right side, took a couple strides towards goal and beat Nichols five-hole.

Roy added an empty-netter late in the third to seal the deal.

“It’s the best time of the year,” said Roy. “We feel like we have the right pieces at the right moment and we’ve learned from the start of the year. And that’s when you want to be a good team and come together, and that’s what I think we’re doing at the right moment.”

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