BOSTON — It wasn’t pretty, but with sixth place already locked up for Northeastern in the Hockey East tournament, wins are still as crucial as ever with the Huskies still in the mix for an at-large bid to the big dance.
Another two points came against Maine Friday night.
Behind two goals from Eric Williams and one apiece from Zach Aston-Reese, Patrick Schule and Adam Gaudette, Northeastern held off a ferocious third period attack by the Black Bears to hold on to a 5-3 win.
“I just didn’t like the way we played,” said Northeastern coach Jim Madigan. “They were just heavier, they beat us to pucks, they wanted the pucks more, they were more determined to come up with pucks in those loose puck battles.”
Freshman goalie Ryan Ruck continued to be the backbone of the team, making 34 saves on a night where it seemed like every time you looked at the net, there were two or three Maine players in sight.
“We played really well,” said Maine coach Red Gendron. “That’s that, but we have to make a few fewer mistakes and play equally well offensively tomorrow, maybe even better. We made some mistakes with the puck and then we made a couple of errors in the second period to give them a couple of goals. That’s why, that’s what happened. A puck management error, a couple of defensive mistakes, three actually, so the puck wound up in the net.”
Northeastern (15-13-5, 9-8-4 Hockey East) got the scoring going early in the first period, getting goals from Aston-Reese and Williams just over three minutes apart to put the Huskies up 2-0.
After forcing a turnover behind Maine’s net, Aston Reese shuffled to the high-slot where Nolan Stevens, parked along the right faceoff dot, moved the puck back out to Aston-Reese, who one-timed it past Maine goalie Rob McGovern for the early lead.
Aston-Reese continued to get opportunities in the ensuing sequences, launching another one-timer that hit his stick awkwardly and floated off in the corner.
Williams quickly hustled after the puck, made a move into the middle of the ice and backhanded it by McGovern.
Continuing to get pressure in the attacking zone, Maine finally got one back at the 14:38 mark of the period to cut the deficit to 2-1.
Skating in the offensive zone, Blaine Byron put a shot on Ruck in transition that was initially saved, but Andrew Tegeler was waiting on the doorstep to knock it home for Maine (8-21-6, 5-14-2).
Less than five minutes later with just 32 seconds remaining in the period, déjà vu hit Northeastern, with Will Merchant scoring on a similar play to tie the game up at two.
Crashing the net on a Brendan Robbins shot from the high-slot, Merchant found the rebound on his stick and tapped it into the wide-open net.
A back-and-forth second period saw both teams getting rushes down ice, but good goaltending by Ruck and McGovern kept the score deadlocked.
At the 12:56 mark of the period that changed, with Northeastern getting two goals under a minute apart courtesy of Williams’ second of the night and Patrick Schule’s second career goal.
Skating in slowly from the blue line, Williams received a Stevens pass, took a stride in, and threw a wrister on net that beat a host of traffic and eventually, McGovern.
Moment’s later, Dylan Sikura hit Schule in transition, and the freshman deked around a defender before beating McGovern five-hole to give Northeastern some breathing room.
The third period saw the action almost exclusively take place in Maine’s attacking zone, with the Black Bears doing their best to screen Ruck out in front and try to poke away at loose rebounds, just as they had done all night.
“We were like a sieve in front of our goaltender,” said Madigan. “They were just going through us, and we were just turning pucks over.”
Less than five minutes into the frame, that strategy paid off. A Daniel Perez shot was initially blocked down by Ruck, but Cedric Lacroix was waiting right out in front again to jam it into the back of the net.
Unfortunately for the Black Bears, despite continuing to absolutely dominate time of possession, the next goal scored was an empty-netter by Gaudette to send Maine home with their sixth loss in seven games.
After blocking a shot in front of the net, Gaudette picked up the loose rebound and threw it all the way down the ice, hitting the center of the net like a bullseye for his ninth of the season.
“We’re a much better team than what we showed here tonight,” said Madigan. “And I know we’ll come back out tomorrow because that effort wasn’t good enough. It was good enough to get two points, but it wasn’t good enough to continue where we want to get to.”