Last weekend, the Huskies took one of the longest trips in Hockey East to play two games at Gutterson Fieldhouse against the Vermont Catamounts. Despite coming in on a long unbeaten streak, Vermont was still near the bottom of Hockey East, and the Huskies dispatched them for their first 4-point weekend since a series against Maine in early January. For their performances in the Beanpot final and against Vermont, Adam Gaudette and Cayden Primeau were named Hockey East’s Player and Goaltender of the week.
On Friday, the Huskies jumped out to an early lead thanks to a shorthanded goal by Zach Solow, his first goal against a non-Atlantic Hockey team this season. He added two assists later in the game, topping 20 points in his freshman season. Dylan Sikura quickly followed with a power play goal to give NU a 2-0 lead less than 5 minutes in. Vermont’s Anthony Petruzelli would strike later to cut the lead to 1 after the first, but Adam Gaudette scored in the second to give NU a 3-1 lead after 2. The third period belonged to Vermont after a series of questionable calls, including a misconduct to Nolan Stevens and a faceoff violation call on Biagio Lerario with just 2 minutes to play, led to two Catamount powerplay goals by Ross Colton and Petruzelli again. The latter was scored 6 on 4 with Lekkas pulled on the Lerario penalty. NU salvaged the game in the overtime though, as a Vermont turnover forced by Patrick Schule led to John Picking all alone in front of the net, where he sent the puck over Lekkas for the game winner.
On Saturday, Vermont’s senior night, the Huskies started with an early barrage but failed to score before Vermont turned the momentum, eventually scoring on a Matt O’Donnell shot and taking the lead into the first intermission. The Huskies came to play in the second though, with an early goal by Eric Williams followed two minutes later with a goal by Lerario to take the lead. Gaudette scored his 26th of the season to extend the lead to 3-1, and the Huskies held on in the third period this time, cruising home to a weekend sweep on a Gaudette empty net goal.
Truthfully, Vermont was better than I expected. I haven’t seen a game of theirs all year aside from the three times they played NU, but they looked closer to the team that went on a run in the second half than they do to their overall record. The Catamounts led both games in shots, 30-26 and 35-26, although the Huskies holding two goal leads for a majority of both games probably contributed to that stat some. Cayden Primeau had another great weekend in goal, saving 61 of 65 shots, although he left a couple of rebounds in harm’s way.
Looking forward, NU finishes the regular season this week with a home-and-home against a UNH team they tied three weeks ago. New Hampshire has been, truthfully, something between underwhelming and impossibly bad in 2018. Since December 6th, the Wildcats have played 17 games and emerged the winners just a single time, a home win against UMass. Head Coach Dick Umile sits at 596 wins and looks almost assured to fall short of 600, a fate that seemed nearly impossible at the start of the streak when he needed 5 wins with at least 21 games to play. The team doesn’t have a single ten-goal scorer and is held afloat by goaltender Danny Tirone, who is saving .918 behind the disaster of a team in front of him, which he showed in the performance at Matthews a few weeks ago. Anything short of a sweep for the Huskies this weekend should be seen as a disappointment, and a sweep is the only way they can keep their slim hopes of the first seed in Hockey East alive.
Looking at the national picture as the playoffs loom ahead, the Huskies sit 12th in the Pairwise, second in Hockey East to Providence. They looked almost assured to end up in 11th, but Michigan somehow swept then-number one Notre Dame to leapfrog the Huskies and almost guarantee their own tournament life. Notre Dame’s continued failure to help Northeastern even after leaving Hockey East is noted.
Looking at Playoff Status, the Huskies have a 78% chance of making the big dance as of today, while CHN has it at 84%. Regardless, the point is that the Huskies are looking pretty good right now, but it’s in no way guaranteed. Looking at this weekend’s games, even a split with UNH would likely knock NU down a few pegs and into the danger zone. Northeastern needs three points to keep their present situation, or better, a sweep of the Wildcats to improve their chances going into the tournament. A theoretical finish where the Huskies go 4-0 to get to the Garden, in four games that NU is heavily favored in, should probably be enough to let us all breathe easy. But as the last month showed, stringing together wins is easier said than done.
Regardless, we know what has to be done, and losses in this position and at this stage of the year are unacceptable and sometimes impossible to come back from. Nothing to do but sit back, celebrate this year’s incredible senior class (which Mike will have a piece on later this weekend), and finish strong. All three of us will be at both games this weekend for the first time all year, so as always, Go Huskies!