ORONO — For two periods, the University of Maine’s men’s hockey team didn’t look like a club fighting for its playoff existence as the gritty Northeastern University Huskies, playing without leading scorer Kevin Roy (upper body injury), frustrated them with a thorough defensive performance.
But the Black Bears, trailing 1-0, killed off a five-minute major and used goals by Kyle Beattie, Ben Hutton and Mark Anthoine to rally past the Huskies 3-1 Friday night at Alfond Arena.
Northeastern had taken a 1-0 lead on a second-period goal by Vinny Saponari.
Maine is now 10-17-6 overall, 6-12-6 in Hockey East. Northeastern fell to 9-19-3 and 5-16-3 and had its playoff aspirations severely damaged.
The top eight teams make the Hockey East playoffs and Maine pulled into an eighth-place tie with UMass, which tied New Hampshire 2-2. Maine and UMass are just one point behind seventh-place Vermont, a 3-1 loser to Boston University.
NU now trails Maine and UMass by five points with three games left heading into Saturday’s rematch with Maine.
Maine, which has won the last five meetings with Northeastern at the Alfond Arena, outshot the Huskies 34-20.
“Killing off the five-minute major gave us momentum,” said Beattie, who celebrated his return to the lineup after missing six games due to his third concussion of the season by tying the game at the 6:30 mark.
He received the puck from Mark Nemec and broke down the right wing before taking a seemingly harmless low 45-foot wrist shot. However, Northeastern goalie Chris Rawlings pulled off the near post prematurely and the puck hit his glove and trickled into short side.
“He gives up a lot of goals like that off shots at his feet from tough angles,” said Beattie. “It was lucky but I’ll take it. It felt great to be back and it’s nice to contribute to the win.”
“Chris played very well tonight,” said NU coach Jim Madigan. “But you can’t give up goals like that in a game like this.”
“No one deserved a goal more than Kyle did,” said Hutton, who scored the game-winner 3:58 later.
Maine’s Jon Swavely was carrying the puck along the right side in the neutral zone when Northeastern defensemen Dax Lauwers fell down, freeing up some more space for him on the rush.
“I just attacked the net,” said Swavely.
Rawlings held the near post to make the first save, but the rebound came back to Swavely, whose second shot was blocked.
Swavely said he and Adam Shemansky were whacking at the puck and it eventually hit his stick and a Northeastern player’s stick before sliding out to the slot where Hutton capitalized.
“I had the whole side of the net to shoot at. It was easy. I just had to put it over one guy,” said freshman defenseman Hutton, whose goal was his fourth of the season and second in three games. He extended his points streak to four games (2 goals, 2 assists).
Northeastern pulled Rawlings and generated some good chances with the extra attacker, but Martin Ouellette came up with some important saves. Anthoine iced it off a pass from Joey Diamond, who had missed the open net but tracked the puck into the corner and knocked Saponari off it before making the pass that earned him his 100th career point.
Saponari scored 1:20 into the second period with a nice move in a one-on-one with Stu Higgins, who was back covering for Nemec, who had pinched in at the offensive blue line.
Saponari cut left to right and flipped a wrister back against the grain to beat Ouellette.
“It was a nice play. He put it over my blocker,” said Ouellette.
The Huskies had a golden opportunity to expand the lead when Jake Rutt was assessed a five-minute major and game misconduct with 21 seconds left in the middle period. His boarding call came at the expense of freshman left wing Mike McMurtry, who was attended to on the ice for several minutes before skating off the ice with help from his teammates.
He didn’t return.
But the Black Bears killed off the penalty thanks to some critical saves by Ouellette.
“The guys did a great job,” said Ouellette. “They blocked a lot of shots. That was a big kill for us.,”
“We had a couple of looks but we didn’t capitalize,” said Madigan. “We’re basically down to one power-play unit [due to injuries].”
Madigan felt his team played well for two periods.
Rawlings finished with 19 Grade-A (high-percentage) saves among his 31 stops while Ouellette made 14 among his 19, including eight Grade-A’s in the final period.
“It was a weird game. I didn’t see a lot of shots through two periods, but that five-minute major got me back into the game,” said Ouellette.