BOSTON — A familiar aurora permeated the Matthews Arena air on Friday night for Game 1 of the first round of the Hockey East playoffs.
Just six days ago, Northeastern and Maine were involved in a bloodbath of a game that featured two all-out melees and a 7-1 Huskies drubbing of the Black Bears to cap off a weekend sweep.
It was a bit closer this time around, with the sixth-seeded Huskies, unbeaten in 16 of its last 17 games heading into the weekend, needing an overtime goal from Matt Benning to fend off the 11th-seeded Black Bears.
“There’s familiarity,” said Northeastern coach Jim Madigan. “Maybe a little more of a battle because you’ve seen the same bodies four games in a row, or will see it tomorrow for four games in a row, but at the end of the day, we all have to maintain our control and play the game the right way because we’re trying to win a series.”
With Dustin Darou and John Stevens battling for the puck in the attacking zone, Zach Aston-Reese swooped in, picked up the puck, and dropped off a pass for the streaking Benning, who one-timed it from between the hashmarks, beating Maine goalie Rob McGovern (29 saves) for the game winner.
“[John Stevens] and [Dustin Darou] made good plays to keep that puck alive,” said Benning. “I was just trying to get the puck on net.”
“He has great vision,” Benning added about Aston-Reese. “He’s a high-end player. He has the ability to make those plays. I don’t know if it’s a roommate thing, but me and him have always been on the same page, so great player.”
In addition to Benning, Northeastern received goals from Stevens and Kevin Ro,y as well as 19 saves from freshman netminder Ryan Ruck, but not before clawing back from a 2-0 deficit they after one period.
“It was a well-fought, hard game,” said Madigan. “That was a quality win for us, [coming] back having been down 2-0. I just thought Maine made it difficult right from the beginning of the game. They were getting pucks in deep. They were early on winning some puck battles in our own zone and they were ready to play. It took us a little bit to get going.”
Despite being outshot 13-7 in the opening frame, Maine got two goals just 17 seconds apart at the end of the period to head into the locker room with a 2-0 edge.
First, on the power play due to a Sam Kurker cross-checking penalty, Maine set up in their offensive zone, winning a puck battle below the goal line and moving it up to the point. Defenseman Dan Renouf then pulled back to shoot, instead opting to launch a pass down to the right faceoff dot for a waiting Cam Brown who one-timed it past Ruck.
Moments later, Andrew Tegeler took a Nolan Vesey pass in Maine’s offensive zone, used his speed to get around a defender and fired a shot over Ruck’s shoulder.
The second period was started almost entirely with Northeastern in their own offensive zone, and the Huskies were rewarded at the 14:39 mark courtesy of Stevens’ ninth goal of the season.
Playing behind the net Aston-Reese put a wrap-around on net that McGovern saved, but unfortunately, Stevens was right out in front to poke the rebound home.
“We weren’t trying to hang on,” said Maine coach Red Gendron. “We started mismanaging [the] puck in the second period.”
The third period got going quickly for Northeastern, with Roy knotting the score up at two less than three minutes in.
With Maine’s Brian Morgan in the penalty box for slashing, Nolan Stevens fired a backhand pass across the crease to Roy who was rushing to the net. Fighting through a defender, Roy got prime positon and tipped it home.
The Black Bears came out strong in overtime, but were not able to get much on net before Benning scored the winner.
“The truth is we played pretty well for a lot of the game,” said Gendron. “But we need to be better tomorrow. End of story.”
Madigan is expecting another battle Saturday night in Game 2.
“I told our guys expect tomorrow everything and the kitchen sink coming out our way because that’s a good hockey club,” Madigan said.