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Northeastern celebrates its first Hockey East title since 1988 (photo: Melissa Wade).

BOSTON — No. 14 Northeastern won its first Hockey East Championship since 1988 — the second in program history — after defeating No. 8 UMass-Lowell 3-2 Saturday night in front of 14,018 fans at the TD Garden.

With the win, Northeastern advanced to the NCAA tournament; Lowell is already guaranteed a spot. What makes the victory even more remarkable is that the Huskies started their season 1-11-2 and went 19-1-2 since December.

Hockey East playoffs

See the tournament bracket and get links to schedules and stories at Hockey East Playoff Central.

“I’m so thrilled and proud of our whole team who battled hard and showed a lot of resilience and resolve throughout the course of the year,” said Northeastern coach Jim Madigan. “To come back from the dead … I am so pleased and happy for them [the players] to know that we won the university’s second championship. It’s a memory they will have forever.”

Zach Aston-Reese’s third-period, power-play goal was the difference for the Huskies.

With just under nine minutes left in regulation, the junior grabbed a lose puck in front of Lowell goaltender Kevin Boyle and backhanded a shot inside the right post.

Lowell pulled Boyle for the extra attacker with just over a minute to go in regulation, but to no avail. The buzzer sounded and Huskies were tossing their gloves and sticks in joyous celebration.

“At the beginning of the year when things were not going right, times were harder, but with character you can overcome a lot and coming back and doing this is pretty special,” said Northeastern captain Kevin Roy. “Doing this, with the guys, with a program like this that hasn’t won since ’88, it speaks a lot for a team.”

It was a fast paced, back-and-forth contest from beginning to end. The Huskies came out of the gate strong, scoring just 1:12 into the game. Sophomore Dylan Sikura sent the puck through the center, where it was intercepted by teammate Mike McMurtry. McMurtry passed it over to Adam Gaudette, who was waiting at the back door to tap it in past Boyle (21 saves) for his 12th goal of the season.

The River Hawks struck back two minutes later when right wing John Edwardh collected a rebound off of Northeastern netminder Ryan Ruck’s pads and fired a shot high blocker side past Ruck (21 saves) to tie it up.

The Huskies stole the momentum back when Lowell’s Dylan Zink was sent to the box for hooking at 4:48. Halfway through the power play, Northeastern capitalized on the man advantage when alternate captain John Stevens flung a quick wrist shot low on net and his younger brother Nolan was there hugging the post to dish the puck past Boyle, sending the team into the second period back on top 2-1.

Lowell dominated the second period with quick skating and navigating the Huskies forecheck. Senior Adam Chapie tallied his second goal of the playoffs and 16th of the season when he grabbed the puck from behind Northeastern’s net, circled around and dished it over Ruck’s far shoulder to make it 2-2.

But the momentum didn’t last long due to the River Hawks’ struggle on the penalty kill.

“Our special teams wasn’t good enough,” said Lowell coach Norm Bazin. “Obviously, our edge and our execution was a little off, and I did feel we didn’t have the same energy that we need in order to have success, so tonight we come out on the losing end.”