BOSTON -- Northeastern did not have much luck with overtime games in the opening round of last year's Hockey East Tournament, but junior defenseman Matt Benning made sure the tides turned the Huskies' way as the page turned to a new season.
The Huskies ended things early in Friday night's overtime period as Benning scored just 4:41 into the extra frame, lifting NU to a 3-2 win to open a best-of-three series with Maine at Matthews Arena.
"It was a well-fought, hard game," said NU head coach Jim Madigan, whose team was swept by Merrimack ― also a No. 11 seed ― in last year's playoffs. "I thought both teams worked hard, played hard, were heavy on the pucks. That was a quality win for us, coming back having been down 2-0."
The Huskies dropped down by a pair of goals in the first period, but came all the way back for their first Hockey East postseason victory on home ice since 2009 and their first in an overtime period in a couple years.
Benning's fifth goal of the season, but first since scoring twice at St. Lawrence back on Jan. 9, could not have come at a more important time. The victory kept NU unbeaten in 17 of its last 18 games and improved the Huskies' overall record on the season to 17-13-5.
The Boston Bruins prospect took a feed from Aston-Reese and teed up a slapper from the high slot that hit the post behind Maine goaltender Rob McGovern and trickled home.
McGovern finished the night with 29 saves as NU outshot his team for the second straight game, 32-21.
"He has great vision," Benning said of Aston-Reese, who had a pair of assists for the second straight game. "He's a high-end player. He has the ability to make those plays, and obviously it helps a little bit with communication. I don't know if it's a roommate thing, but me and him have always been on the same page."
McGovern, a freshman from Weymouth, Mass., made 13 first-period saves to keep the Black Bears in the game, but his offense popped two goals into the back of the net before the first buzzer sounded.
NU held a 13-7 shooting advantage in the frame, but juniors Cam Brown and Andrew Tegeler scored in quick succession to turn around momentum in the contest.
Brown scored at 17:51, taking defenseman Dan Renouf's feed from high in the offensive zone. The Natick, Mass., native held the puck while skating down the right wing and let a shot go through NU freshman Ryan Ruck's legs from the bottom of the circle.
Tegeler doubled Maine's lead at 18:08 off another hard drive down the right wing. Nolan Vesey fed the puck across the offensive zone, where Tegeler roofed home his fourth goal of the season.
"I just thought Maine made it difficult right from the beginning of the game," Madigan said. "They were getting pucks in deep. They were, early on, winning some puck battles in our own zone. They were ready to play, and it took us a little bit to get going."
The Huskies jumped out of the gate fast in the second period and cut the visitors' lead in half at 14:39. Junior John Stevens followed up linemate Zach Aston-Reese's shot by crashing the net and stuffing a rebound between McGovern's legs.
NU's lone goal of the third period came just 2:54 in, tying the game at 2-2. Senior captain Kevin Roy continued his recent stretch of strong play with his sixth goal in the last seven games, redirecting home a beautiful pass from sophomore Nolan Stevens at the top of the crease.
Senior defenseman Dustin Darou and junior forward John Stevens battled for a puck along the wall in advance of Benning's overtime winner. The puck squirted loose to Aston-Reese and he dropped back to a trailing Benning, who caught up to the play and rifled the puck home from a few steps inside the blue line.
It was an impressive finish to the night for the Huskies, but Maine head coach Red Gendron knows the play developed as a result of an opportunity that could have been stopped.
"We weren't trying to hang on," Gendron said. "We started mismanaging the puck in the second period. Come down on a rush, try to make another pass, but the guy's not open. ... I'm pretty confident the game-winning goal was another example of that. We tried to make a cute play in the neutral zone instead of making sure we get it deep."
The finish to Madigan's club's game was an important step as the series continues on Saturday night. It's win and advance for the Huskies, and their stick-to-itiveness was a key factor in opening the weekend with a crucial win.
"I liked the way we showed some resolve in coming back and scored one in the second, one in the third," Madigan said. "We had patience to our game. ... We'll take it, but I told the guys to expect tomorrow night everything and the kitchen sink coming our way because that's a good hockey club."