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Northeastern’s Late Surge Ousts UConn in Hockey East Opening Round, 6-2

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Ian Bethune

BOSTON -- There are few, if any, teams in college hockey more lethal on the power play than Northeastern. It has been a recipe to success all season long.

Saturday at Matthews Arena, the eighth-seeded Huskies were in yet another Hockey East playoff battle with UConn. Until the third period. And, the visitors? They learned that first fact the hard way as Evan Richardson’s major penalty for contact to the head with 9:25 to play proved costly.

“I thought it was a great hockey game until we took the five-minute major,” UConn head coach Mike Cavanaugh said. “It was two teams going at it. We had a lot of chances, and I thought it was setting up for an exciting finish.

“We didn’t kill a penalty. Plain and simple.”

Senior John Stevens scored two of the host Huskies three goals on the ensuing power play, turning what was a tight contest into a 6-2 blowout and their third trip to the league’s quarterfinal round in the last four seasons.

Stevens scored twice and freshman defenseman Jeremy Davies added another for a three-goal spurt in less than four minutes. Game, set, match.

“It’s nice when your captain who has battled injuries all year long comes up and has a great game here tonight,” Northeastern head coach Jim Madigan said of Stevens. “It’s deserved for him to get on the scoresheet with two real big goals that put the game away.”

It marked Stevens’ first multi-goal effort of the season and two assists equaled his first four-point night as a Husky.

Seniors Brendan Collier and Zach Aston-Reese and sophomore Adam Gaudette also added goals for Northeastern, who will play either UMass Lowell or Boston University ― pending Sunday night’s New Hampshire-Merrimack result ― in the quarterfinals.

Aston-Reese’s goal came 8:06 into the second period and was his 30th of the season, tied for eighth-most in a single season in Northeastern history. With an assist on John Stevens’ second goal, he also became the first Husky to reach the 30-goal and 30-assist marks in the same season since Jay Heinbuck in 1985-86.

“I’m obviously real happy with the series win. I talked about how difficult last night’s game was, and tonight’s a 3-2 game into the third,” Madigan said. “Our power play has been good all year long. We had a lot of confidence going out there. When we got the first, we all felt like there was another one to come.”

Senior Brian Morgan and sophomore Miles Gendron scored second-period goals for the visitors to draw the score within one, but John Stevens took it upon himself to give Northeastern the lead back with two goals ― on similar plays to the left side ― in a span of 1:58.

Sophomore defenseman Garret Cockerill shoveled a pass from the right circle to the elder Stevens in the high slot for a one-time shot at 11:13, while Aston-Reese moved the puck towards the left wing circle for the second goal.

“If you don’t take advantage of the opportunity, it can easily swing the momentum the other way,” said the senior captain Stevens. “We’ve got a group of guys who have been here for a while. We’ve seen games where we’ve failed to convert opportunities like that, so we really wanted to bear down.”

Northeastern sure took advantage. The host Huskies scored four times over three power plays, generating 11 of their 34 shots on those chances.

Davies added the exclamation point at the 14:52 mark on a scrum in front of UConn freshman Adam Huska, who left out a rebound from junior Nolan Stevens’ shot that slid onto the rookie’s stick for his eighth goal of the season.

The hosts jumped on the scoreboard in quick fashion as Collier flicked a wrister over Huska’s right shoulder just 4:09 into the game, while Aston-Reese cleaned up a rebound that Nolan Stevens’ shot left at the end of a 2-on-1 rush.

The win was Northeastern’s seventh in eight games since opening the Beanpot with a Feb. 6 loss.

“Healthy bodies helps,” Madigan said. “John missed 13 games, (Nolan) missed 21. ... We’ve certainly felt it, but we were still resilient in finding ways to win some games. When you get all your assets together, good things happen.”

UConn was still resilient, coming within a goal twice after facing 2-0 and 3-1 deficits. Morgan finished his seventh goal on a transition rebound, but Gaudette’s 16th man-up marker of the year and 26th overall came on a one-timer from John Stevens 2:10 later.

The visitors were unable to beat Northeastern’s Ryan Ruck (32 saves) after the 18:01 marker of the middle frame, when Gendron’s shot from the right point deflected off a defender’s skate.

“My motto with the team is one play never makes a game,” Cavanaugh said. “No one said we couldn’t kill that penalty. We didn’t kill it.”