The Takeaway: Saponari’s Late Winner Saves Northeastern at BU

Posted by: Joe Meloni

BOSTON — Former Boston University winger Vinny Saponari scored with 2 minutes, 3 seconds left in regulation to lift Northeastern to a 6-5 win at Agganis Arena on Friday. Saponari’s tally undid a furious three-goal comeback from BU that saw a 5-2 Northeastern lead at the start of the third period become a 5-5 tie with 13:24 to play in the frame.

A pair of second period goals from Braden Pimm and Cody Ferriero helped Northeastern build the three-deficit heading into the third. Evan Rodrigues scored twice and Danny O’Regan added a third to pull BU even. Kevin Roy led the way for the Huskies with a goal and two assists. Rodrigues scored a pair of goals and added two helpers for the Terriers.

What I Saw

  • Northeastern’s forecheck caused serious problems for the BU defensemen on Friday night. The Huskies worked the puck below the circles effectively throughout the game. BU’s talented defenders had little answer for the aggressive Huskies. What’s more, Northeastern turned their lengthy cycles into quality scoring chances. The Huskies put 14 shots on BU goaltender Sean Maguire from the goalmouth. Generating offense from below the circles has been the hallmark of Northeastern during its more successful nights. On Friday, five of the Huskies’ six goals came from rushing the net and making it difficult for Maguire to corral rebounds.
  • The BU defensemen struggled with almost every aspect of the game. Aside from running the power play effectively and chipping in on offense, BU had yet another nightmarish performance in its own zone. Northeastern won most puck battles in the corners and in front of the BU goal. Breakouts weren’t particularly kind to BU either. Aggressive forechecking and backchecking made it difficult for the Terriers to find any clean rushes up ice.
  • BU’s power play showed signs of improvement in defeat. In the first period, BU scored a pair of power-play goals within 27 seconds of each other. First, Matt Nieto fired a cross-ice pass from O’Regan past Rawlings, before Garrett Noonan beat Rawlings with a wrist shot from the high slot. Entering the game, BU converted on 13.4 percent of its power plays. Friday’s 3-for-6 on the man advantage bodes well for the Terriers moving forward. BU moved the puck well around the perimeter and found open shots well against Northeastern.

What I Thought

  • Sean Maguire deserved a better performance in front of him. Thirty-two saves on 38 shots isn’t the type of performance that earns players much praise. Maguire, though, had to deal with a defensive group that looked lost for most of the evening. Unfortunately for the Terriers, this wasn’t an isolated incident. The Terriers have allowed six goals in three of their last five games — all losses. Meanwhile, holding opponents to two or fewer has led to wins in two of those five games. The formula for success isn’t particularly difficult to imagine for BU. Putting it together has been the problem. On the BU blue line, there is a mix of youth and experience, highly touted talent and under-the-radar grinders. All things considered, it’s one of Hockey East better groups on paper. Translating that mix of skill and grit into success has been an inconsistent process of last, however.
  • Playing with some sandpaper in the BU zone allowed Northeastern’s skill to shine on Friday. There’s more talent in the NU lineup than there has been in years past. However, the goals haven’t come as easily as they may have expected this season. Even with the six they poured on BU on Friday, Northeastern is averaging just 2.37 goals per game — good enough for eighth in Hockey East. Against BU, the Huskies drove to the net and won battles below the circles. This made life difficult for the BU defensemen and opened passing and shooting lanes as a result. At times, BU’s defensemen seemed to expect dump-and-chase hockey, which allowed NU to turn to its skill for some chance. Ferriero’s second period goal, which made it 5-2 Huskies, came on a nifty toe drag and little luck. The puck hit Alexx Privitera’s skate and trickled through his legs where Ferriero picked it up and fired past Maguire. Northeastern can dangle and snipe with anyone in Hockey East. It just seems to work better when they win puck battles as well.
  • Saponari still really loves playing against his former team. It’s no secret that Saponari was unceremoniously jettisoned from BU following the 2009-10 season, his second on Comm. Ave. After a season in the USHL, Saponari landed at Northeastern. While his year-and-a-half of hockey hasn’t gone as well as he hoped, his game-winning goal on Friday was the second he scored against BU since landing on St. Botolph Street. In last year’s regular season final, Saponari scored an overtime winner at Matthews Arena. Following that score, he darted for the visiting BU student section and thumped the Northeastern logo on his chest. On Friday, he followed that up by bringing his hand to his ear after silencing the BU student section that jeered him relentlessly throughout. Some are inevitably going to label to this as arrogance or showboating, but there is a reason people love college hockey rivalries. Saponari plays for Northeastern now, and he’s proud to do so.

What They Said

“I don’t think this game is going to have much of an effect on us moving forward.” — Northeastern captain Vinny Saponari

It’s a simple statement, but it’s an important one for Northeastern. In every game, there are positive and negatives lessons to learn. Northeastern did some good things on Friday, and they’ll need to keep doing them to qualify for the postseason. Friday’s win will go a long way to helping NU qualify for the Hockey East tournament. However, two more points are at stake against Boston College on Saturday.

What They Didn’t Say

Northeastern sophomore winger Ludwig Karlsson and freshman defensemen Dustin Darou both missed Friday’s game, still recovering from injuries. Darou has a lower-body ailment, and Karlsson’s is of the upper body variety. The players are week to week. Northeastern coach Jim Madigan didn’t discuss their status for Saturday against BC.

What Else You Should Know

  • BU and Northeastern will play at least three more times this season. The clubs battle in the first round of the Beanpot on Feb. 4 at the TD Garden. In terms of their final two Hockey East games, they will wait until the last weekend of the season, March 8 and 9, to finish the season series.
  • BU hosts Massachusetts-Lowell at Agganis Arena on Saturday. The River Hawks knocked off Providence, 2-1, on Thursday night.

Leave a Reply