BOSTON -- Northeastern's regular season did not get off to the best of starts this season, but it is all about the finish in college hockey.
The Huskies finished this Hockey East regular season with a bang ― their seventh straight win and 16th in the final 17 games ― on Saturday night, scoring four times on the power play for a 7-1 triumph over Maine.
Juniors Zach Aston-Reese (one goal, two assists) and Matt Benning (three assists) paced the NU offense in the victory. Seven different players cracked the goal column for the Huskies en route to clinching their third consecutive sweep in league play.
It was certainly an emphatic finish, but the same two teams will return to the ice next week to begin a best-of-three Hockey East postseason series.
"This ends one chapter of the year, the regular season," said Northeastern head coach Jim Madigan. "We try to build off momentum and good habits and details. From where we started to where we ended, obviously our kids have shown a lot of character in reclaiming the season back."
Next week's meetings (Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, if necessary) will mark the first between NU and Maine in the playoffs since 2001, when the Black Bears swept a quarterfinal set at Alfond Arena.
The Huskies conceded the game's first four shots on goal, but stormed back on the offensive and scored three straight goals to take command of the game.
Adam Gaudette continued his solid rookie campaign at the 7:28 mark, scoring his tenth goal of the season to lift the Huskies to a 1-0 lead. Junior John Stevens fed the puck to the to Gaudette at the top of Maine junior Matt Morris' crease, and he didn't miss from close range.
Sophomore Nolan Stevens doubled NU's lead at 10:32, tipping home Aston-Reese's try at the net from the middle of the right circle.
Benning collected a loose puck just inside NU's offensive blue line and fed the puck low to Aston-Reese, who spun around and fired the puck onto Morris. The younger Stevens scored on a heads-up play at the net mouth.
Kevin Roy scored his fifth goal in the last six games for the Huskies at the 13:35 mark, potting a bouncing puck that deflected right onto his stick after junior Brendan Collier deflected it to the ice out of two Maine defenders' control.
Maine sophomore Nolan Vesey found the back of the net at 14:59, breaking ahead of the NU defense on the power play with sophomore defenseman Eric Schurhamer.
NU was outshot by a 10-7 margin in the first period, but claimed edges in the final two frames and 33-27 for the game.
The Huskies closed the game with two goals in each of the last two periods, but did so in the midst of a game that was severely disrupted by penalties. The teams combined for 66 penalty minutes in the contest, a whopping 62 of which came after the first period.
"I thought our guys just tried to remain calm and did as good a job as they could," Madigan said. "Emotions got caught up there, but I'm happy with the win and happy with how things finished up for the season."
Senior defenseman Colton Saucerman's third goal of the season came 13:27 into the second as sophomore Dylan Sikura fed him for a snipe in the low left circle.
McMurtry added to the Huskies' count at 16:09. Rookie Eric Williams' point shot was blocked down in front of the net, but right onto McMurtry's stick for the easy finish at Morris' left-hand post.
NU's third-period scoring also came in the later stages as Aston-Reese got himself into the goal column with a perfect shot from low in the right circle at 14:19. Benning's second assist of the night was a feed to Aston-Reese low in the power play formation and finished with an emphatic flick of the wrist.
The night ended with junior Tanner Pond scoring his first goal of the year for NU, tipping home senior Jarrett Fennell's point shot at 16:56.
NU freshman Ryan Ruck earned the victory, making 22 saves in 51:11 of ice time. Senior Derick Roy tended goal for the final 7:50, stopping all four shots he faced.
"I'm particularly happy for our seniors who played tonight who ended their final regular season home game on a good note, with a nice win," Madigan said. "They all contributed, which was nice. They've done an awful lot for this program."
The regular season is over, 34 games complete. But the page turns now. Everyone's 0-0, and Madigan knows how much the past means after his Huskies exited the playoffs early at Merrimack's hands last season.
"You work 34 games to do all the right things, and now we know in these playoffs it's sudden death," Madigan said. "Next Friday and Saturday, these two games don't mean anything. It's good for us to know that we can beat Maine, but now it's a whole new season. We saw that last year, and we understand the magnitude of where we're heading."