NORTH ANDOVER, Mass. -- It just takes one game, one weekend to break out of a slump in Hockey East.
In the long run, this could turn out to be that weekend for the Northeastern Huskies.
Despite being outshot in the second and third periods and out-attempted (70-58) for the game, the Huskies were opportunistic, scoring in every period and going 3-for-7 on the power play en route to a 4-2 win over Merrimack on Saturday night at Lawler Rink.
“I thought we played a real good game,” Northeastern head coach Jim Madigan said. “It was one of our best games all season long. This is a tough building to play in. You’ve got to play fast and heavy, and I thought we grinded it out. … I just liked the whole mentality and mindset of our kids.”
The win lifted the Huskies to their first Hockey East sweep of the season and a 3-6-3 mark in league play. NU is 9-10-5 overall.
Of course, getting to the finish wasn’t easy.
Chris LeBlanc had a golden chance to give Merrimack a 1-0 lead as he came out of the penalty box after serving a high-sticking penalty less than four minutes into the game, but his shot just sailed wide over Northeastern sophomore goaltender Ryan Ruck.
For the hosts, penalties were the problem.
“For a team that averages 11 (penalty minutes per game) to take seven (penalties) tonight,” Merrimack head coach Mark Dennehy said, “I don’t know what we were thinking.”
Benefiting from extended time with a man advantage, the Huskies came back strong and used sophomore Adam Gaudette’s 13th goal of the season to jump ahead at 6:15. On a brief two-man advantage, junior defenseman Garret Cockerill slid a pass from the point to the left circle where Gaudette pumped home a one-timer.
As Merrimack went to a power play of its own in the final four minutes of the period, it tied the game against the run of play at the 16:05 marker as freshman defenseman Jonathan Kovacevic took a shot from above the right circle that rode through traffic and above Ruck’s shoulder.
Merrimack sophomore Drew Vogler was often tested in the opening period as he stopped 13 of the 14 shots he faced, including a give-and-go between Gaudette and Sikura in the final three minutes of play.
In his second start in as many games, Vogler finished with 31 saves, all but seven of which came in the first two periods. The Huskies recorded a whopping 20 of their 35 shots on goal on power plays.
“Three of (Northeastern’s goals) went off our guys,” Dennehy said. “The first goal went off (Jonathan Lashyn’s) skate, the second went off (Kovacevic’s) skate and the third one hit someone. It’s hard to blame the goaltender.”
On the flip side, Ruck made 18 of his 33 stops in the second.
The Warriors' offense, which was credited with the first seven shots of the second period, rewarded Vogler with a lead at the 2:26 mark as junior Jace Hennig stuck home a loose puck from the right crease after senior assistant captain Hampus Gustafsson took a long shot caromed off the glass behind Ruck.
Hennig's fourth goal of the season did not stand up for long as Matt Filipe leveled the visitors with the first even-strength goal of the game at 6:55. Senior Zach Aston-Reese forced a turnover in the offensive zone and found the native of nearby Lynnfield in the right circle for a backhand that appeared to change directions on its way to goal.
“I thought he was really good, and I thought that line (with seniors Aston-Reese and John Stevens) was really good,” Madigan said of Filipe. “He brings strength, size and speed, and that was a big goal that he scored to bring us back to even because Merrimack was pushing there. … He played like a man out there. It was almost like a ‘coming out’ for him.”
Aston-Reese's assist lifted him to the 40-point mark for the second straight season, but he took the game-winning goal into his own hands at the 12:36 mark, pouncing on a rebound that Stevens’ initial shot left outside the crease on the right side. The goal was Aston-Reese’s 22nd of the season and 11th on the power play, more than any Husky since 1993-94.
Sophomore defenseman Eric Williams added a big insurance goal for the visitors 9:44 into the third. After Filipe moved the puck into the offensive zone, he fed Williams who forced his defender low and shot a low wrister through traffic.