In two games last weekend, the Northeastern Huskies bounced back from their midweek woes and defeated the last-place Merrimack Warriors by identical 3-1 scorelines. Freshman Goaltender Cayden Primeau was named Hockey East Rookie of the Week for his 56 save weekend in the two winning efforts. The victories pushed NU back into 19th position (from 25th) in the Pairwise, and leave them in second place in Hockey East, 4 points behind Boston College with a game in hand. With just two conference games left before the break, getting back on track with 4 points was critical for the Huskies, and the game at Conte Forum this weekend may well end up being the difference in whether NU can overtake BC atop the conference standings come the end of February.
Northeastern dominated the first period Friday Night, putting up a 10-2 advantage in shots on goal and finding the net on deflections twice, first on a John Picking tip of a Garrett Cecere point shot, then on a Nolan Stevens deflection of a Dylan Sikura (power play) point shot. The Huskies were assisted by three Warrior penalties in the period, scoring one goal on the advantage the other shortly after the conclusion of a power play.
Merrimack fought back in the second, quickly getting the first 11 shots of the period and taking the lead in shots on goal overall, but Primeau was up to the task, saving all 11 and eventually the next 6 in a 17-save shutout period. The Huskies posted 9 shots of their own after surviving the early onslaught and Lincoln Griffin would extend the lead to 3, finding the puck after a Picking scoring chance and putting it past Pantano.
The third period had the Huskies playing safe and playing the game out, a strategy that was going well until Matt Filipe was assessed a very questionable major penalty for charging the goaltender. Merrimack would get one back and break Primeau’s shutout on the advantage via a Cole McBride snipe from the right circle, but the Huskies killed the penalty well otherwise and rode home on a 3-1 advantage after the Warriors took a late penalty which prevented them from pulling their goalie for an extra skater.
The Huskies played a solid all-around game Friday, showing off their PP (1 goal, effectively 2), their PK (1 goal allowed in 9 minutes), their ability to start strong (10-2 shots in period 1), their ability to weather a storm (11-0 MC shots to start period 2, the major penalty), and their goaltending (28 saves on 29 shots.) John Picking and the third line also had a bit of a coming out party, as Picking scored a goal and set up a Griffin goal, while the two also connected for a few other chances. While it is “just” Merrimack, it was a much needed boost after three clunkers in a row.
On Saturday, the script didn’t go quite as well though, as the friendly confines of Lawler Arena helped the Warriors contain the visiting Huskies and they jumped out to a 10-3 shot advantage, in part due to a Garret Cockerill tripping penalty, but a strong kill and period by Primeau to keep the game knotted at zero. The Huskies’ power play struck late though, as a Titcomb tripping penalty gave the Huskies the advantage and Adam Gaudette slid into the right circle, taking a perfect Sikura feed and one-timing it into the net before anybody could react.
Merrimack started strong again in the second and finally got a goal with the run of play, as Logan Coomes received a puck near the crease and tied the game at 1. Gaudette would be the hero though, as a few moments later he walked into the zone 1-on-2, found a hole, and sniped the puck in past Drew Vogler from above the circles on the rush, shocking most everybody in attendance. The Huskies killed off an MC advantage then got their own late – and wasted no time – as Gaudette won the faceoff back to the point, where Cockerill shot/passed the puck to Stevens right in the middle, and the Captain delivered to give the Huskies a 3-1 lead just 8 seconds into the advantage. That was about the last eventful moment, as despite MC leading shots 24-11 after the second, the Huskies held the Warriors to just 5 shots in the third period and Merrimack took three more penalties, including two in the final 2 minutes to once again negate any chance at an extra attacker comeback, to seal the game.
Primeau was the star again, saving 28/29 for the second consecutive night and holding MC to one goal while facing 24 shots in the first two frames. The third line continued their run of good chances from Friday, although they didn’t find the net on this one, they suddenly appear to be a very threatening force. If they can keep it up and keep building in the new year, I legitimately have no idea how a team is supposed to keep both them and the Huskies’ top six contained for 60 minutes. The special teams were also a key part of the weekend, with 2 PPG on Saturday for 3 (effectively 4) on the weekend, while the penalty kill allowed just a single goal (on a major) to an MC power play that had been red-hot entering the weekend, and had the country’s best power play for nearly the last month prior to last weekend.
Moving on to Boston College, you can read our preview of the last game against them here. BC won that first meeting 4-1, and while it was a disappointing loss, the game was a lot closer than the scoreboard indicated after BC pulled away with a number of fluky goals in the third period. BC has been a bit less effective defensively since, tying Harvard and splitting with BU, with no wins in the two games at Conte Forum and 11 goals allowed over those two home contests.
The Eagles did a great job shutting NU down in that first meeting, and the game may likely come down to whether we see that BC team show up or if it’s the one that has been shaky since. But as NU lost at home in the first game, they almost have to salvage a split now if they’re to have a chance at the Hockey East regular season crown, as a loss would put them 6 points behind BC with a loss in the tiebreaker. Another interesting note, a win would be the first Northeastern win at Boston College in Jim Madigan’s coaching career, as the Huskies have picked up just 4 wins over the Eagles since 2011, with one at Matthews (2012) and three at TD Garden (2015 Beanpot, 2016 HEA Semifinal, 2017 Beanpot). No time like the present to break that streak and send the Eagles home with a loss!
Predictions: (2 points for correct result, +1 for correct score, -1 for incorrect result)
Downie (9 points): BC wins 3-2
Fallon (6 points): BC wins 1-0 (Shoutout to Ryan for picking both wins and both scores correctly last week)
Davis (5 points): BC wins 3-1