In the final two games of the season at Historic Matthews Arena, Northeastern picked up a pair of victories over the 8 seed Massachusetts Minutemen to punch two tickets, one to TD Garden and a Hockey East Semifinal date with Providence College at 8 PM Friday, and the other to the NCAA tournament on March 23-25, where their time, date, and location, and opponent will be selected this Sunday. Check the Blog twitter on Saturday Night (Hopefully after a Hockey East Championship for the Huskies) to see where we (and everybody else) project NU for the tourney, but at this point in time, Worcester is looking as likely as you could possibly hope for a week out.
On Friday Night, a scoreless first saw NU at a slight advantage, but the Minutemen and goaltender Ryan Wischow were holding strong. The game changed at 8:07 of the second period when Jake Gaudet hit Garrett Cecere into the boards behind the Husky net, resulting in a major and game misconduct to Gaudet after video review. The incredible Huskies power play struck twice on the advantage, with a goal from Nolan Stevens 45 seconds into the power play and Dylan Sikura rocketing the puck home just before it expired, staking the Huskies to the lead. On the expiration of the power play, UMass jumped out of the box and directly into transition, resulting in Phillip Lagunov and Niko Rufo assisting Austin Albrecht and putting the Minutemen back in striking distance to end the second. Brett Boeing would strike just two minutes into the third to tie the game and slant the momentum in UMass’ favor.
The game would change at 11:39 in the third though, as Patrick Schule was crosschecked in the back and fell on Wischow, inexplicably causing Schule to be assessed a goaltender interference penalty. The Huskies took momentum on the penalty kill though, stifling the UMass power play on 4 straight zone entries and holding them without a shot. 9 seconds after the power play expired the Huskies took their momentum and struck, as Schule jumped out of the box and passed to Adam Gaudette, who centered the puck to Sikura for a one time shot that barely trickled through Wischow for his second goal of the game, the eventual game winner. Cayden Primeau took it from there, making 12 saves in a perfect third period to shut down UMass and secure the win.
On Saturday Night, the Huskies came out with no intention of seeing a third game. Jeremy Davies scored just 3:42 into the game, taking a Biagio Lerario pass and deking up the middle of the ice and past Wischow. Stevens doubled the lead to 2 near the end of the first, as Lincoln Griffin attempted a wraparound and the puck rebounded off Wischow into the slot, where Stevens stuffed it home. The second was more of the same, with Gaudette striking 3:21 into the period followed by goals from Sikura, Brandon Hawkins, and Stevens for a 6-0 Husky lead after two. UMass made a bit of a dent in garbage time, as a Griffin goal was sandwiched between a pair of goals from John Leonard and Boeing for the 7-2 final tally.
The weekend was a microcosm of Northeastern’s season, really. They struggled at times with a weaker opponent on Friday, using the power play to stay afloat while not performing particularly well beyond the first line at even strength. Then on Saturday they exploded for a 5-0 lead on 5 even strength goals with contributions from players like Lerario, Hawkins, and Griffin. And Primeau was a rock the entire time. How far this team goes in the tournament may well rely on them playing more like Saturday and less like Friday, as NU got their first taste of playoff officiating this weekend. Absolutely NOTHING was getting called on Friday, to an absurd degree. The only penalty to UMass was a boarding major that the referees are allowed to review on video and literally have no choice but to call. And NU only got called once as well, although it was legitimately one of the worst calls I’ve ever seen. In that kind of environment, you’re not going to get many power play chances. It’s unfortunate that the game is played differently in March than it is all year, but that’s life. (Unless NU is playing BU anyway, then there are more penalties than anybody knows what to do with.)
I want to take a minute to talk about the UMass fans too. The game Friday night is legitimately the biggest/loudest away section I’ve ever seen anywhere, though I’m told BU used to rival it before my time at Northeastern. It’s impressive to see how sudden of a shift there is between the Minutemen before Carvel showed up to now. They’re going to be dangerous on and off the ice sooner rather than later. Having said that, you really have to have some situational awareness. Going around the arena and on social media claiming that Matthews is “our house” in a game/series where your team never took the lead is stupid. So is mocking the lack of students when your opponents are in the middle of spring break and had the most impressive mid-break crowd I’ve ever seen themselves. Don’t turn a positive story about your school into a negative. I’m sure nobody who goes to UMass will ever read this, but I have takes.
Back to NU, they’ll be facing Providence at 8 PM Friday Night (the game will actually start 45 minutes after the conclusion of the early game, but we’re gunning for 8.) BC/BU is the other semifinal matchup and it’s rather shocking that that matchup is the early game. The presumption is that the highest seed gets to pick which timeslot they want and prefers the early game, due to the extra three hours of rest and to avoid a late night if the early game goes long. But we saw the opposite in 2016, when #1 BC played #6 Northeastern in the late game after a triple OT game between Providence and Lowell. The only theory at this point is that while #1 gets to pick, they can be “pressured” by NESN/TD Garden to play the late game if it’s a significant attendance/ratings advantage. You would think that BC/BU would be that, but considering the student support NU brings, maybe they decided it was a wash. Or maybe BC just refused to go late after 2016. Either way, the Huskies are in primetime and I for one am perfectly happy with it.
Quick NCAA tourney update, NU clinched their berth this weekend via Pairwise, as they are unable to finish worse than 12th and the 12th team is mathematically guaranteed an at large. With a Hockey East title this weekend, the Huskies can finish as high as sixth. Sixth and twelfth are fringe, one-in-a-million kind of scenarios, in reality they’ll be between 7th and 11th. A win against PC Friday will secure a spot in 7th-8th and a 2 seed in the tournament, while a loss will drop them to 8th or 9th to 11th and basically lock in a 3. We don’t expect there to be too much trouble getting NU to Worcester either way, but obviously winning Hockey East, finishing 7th, and getting the easiest possible draw in the first round is the ultimate goal. Seems straightforward enough.