The Takeaway: Northeastern takes two crucial points from Maine

Posted by: Jill Saftel

BOSTON – Freshman Adam Reid gave the Huskies the 3-2 lead over Maine with less than two minutes to play, but junior Vinny Saponari clinched the 4-2 win for Northeastern with an empty netter in the game’s final seconds. With the win, Northeastern moves to 12-14-5 on the season, 8-12-4 in Hockey East.

A power play goal from junior Garrett Vermeersch gave the Huskies the first period lead, but after two goals from Maine’s Brian Flynn and Spencer Abbott put Northeastern down by one, it was junior Justin Daniels who had the equalizer in the second to tie it up 2-2.

It all came down to the third period, and that’s when Northeastern’s Joe Manno went on a breakaway, but couldn’t capitalize. Junior Steve Quailer tried to sink Manno’s rebound, but after falling short is was Reid who got it past Maine goaltender Dan Sullivan, giving Northeastern the edge.

What I saw

Tonight’s game featured gritty, rough hockey, the kind you’d expect from two teams fighting for a playoff spot and home ice advantage. Northeastern played like they wanted a playoff spot, and compete level, for once, wasn’t an issue. Across the board, the Northeastern players were finally all solid at the same time. Most notably, the Husky defense was able to keep Maine’s first line of the nation’s leading scorer Spencer Abbott, Brian Flynn, and Joey Diamond contained.

You can’t mention Northeastern’s defense without Chris Rawlings, and tonight with 29 saves the junior goaltender didn’t give much cause for concern. After a couple of rough outings against Providence where he gave up more than one soft goal, tonight Rawlings was what his team needed him to be, and that’s dependable. There’s no doubt that when Rawlings is going strong it allows his teammates in front of him to do a little more knowing he’s confident behind them.

Across the ice, Dan Sullivan really did the same thing for Maine. Despite not getting the win, the sophomore goaltender was steady, stopping 24 shots. He’s gone 17-7-3 in net for the Black Bears in 27 games with a .904 save percentage.

In front of Sullivan, Maine’s top line of Spencer Abbott, Brian Flynn, and Joey Diamond is really something to watch. They’ve combined for 137 points this season; 53 for Abbott, 44 for Flynn, and 37 for Diamond. Each of them came out of tonight with at least a point, Abbott and Flynn each notched a goal and Diamond had the assist on both.

What I thought

Whatever demons Northeastern was fighting off during their five-game winless slump are gone, and it may have been Steve Quailer who made it happen. The junior forward returned tonight after missing six games due to torn ligaments in his knee. While Quailer only notched an assist in the Husky win, his presence and effort on the ice seem to bring a sense of confidence and focus to this team that was so badly missing in the past month. Braden Pimm and Quailer looked really good reunited, still missing their line mate Cody Ferriero who’s out for the season after knee surgery.

Northeastern had the advantage when it came to penalties, taking only three to Maine’s seven – and they need to keep it that way. Taking too many penalties with undisciplined play was an issue for this team earlier in the season, but it seems as though this team understands what’s at stake and that discipline is a huge part of that.

When Maine’s defenseman Mike Cornell garnered a game misconduct for a hit to the head on Northeastern’s Alex Tuckerman, Matt Mangene moved from the second line back to defense for the Black Bears, but the move left their offense lacking. It should be interesting to see Maine’s offense again Saturday with its two top lines in tact.

What they said

“One thing that stands out pretty good is the amount of penalties we took. Anytime you give a team five power plays, and I think one of those was a five minute and we lost one of our defenseman, certainly the penalties cost us.

We knew it was going to be very hard fought tonight, very physical, so we were fully prepared for that kind of game and again, we were in a position to win it with two minutes to go and unfortunately we just didn’t get it done.”

– Maine head coach Tim Whitehead

“I’m obviously very happy with the win, two big points for us. I think every one knows we’re fighting for that last play off spot with UMass Amherst. I thought our guys played really hard, really gritted out, it was a close game all the way through….I was glad the way our guys played, I thought they played really well and resilient and I liked the way our discipline was.”

– Northeastern head coach Jim Madigan

“I love playing with Pimm. He’s a great player and Vermeersch is a great player so they kind of helped me get back into the game tonight, setting me up. I’ll bury it tomorrow night, but yeah, it definitely helps getting back with him [Pimm].”

– Steve Quailer on his line mates

What they didn’t say

Getting a win tonight was beyond crucial for Northeastern. I don’t know that they could have turned it around to fight for a win tomorrow had they not come out on top tonight. Not only does the win give them a boost in the rankings, but a boost in confidence is what this team needed to have any chance at success this weekend and next.

Madigan was irate when senior captain Mike McLaughlin and Tuckerman went down after hits to the head. Clearly angered and calling for penalties during the game, Madigan only commented that taking care of hits like that is the job of the referees.

What else you should know

With the win and a University of Massachusetts loss to New Hampshire, Northeastern has moved into sole possession of eighth place in the Hockey East Standings. The Huskies face Maine again tomorrow night at home.  Should tomorrow bring a Northeastern loss and a UMass win, the teams will be back where they were, tied for eighth place and the final spot in Hockey East playoffs. Maine still sits in fourth, tied with Merrimack.

McLaughlin and Tuckerman both suffered blows to the head tonight, they were both in with doctors postgame and decisions on tomorrow night will be made after they are evaluated.

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