BOSTON — The second period has dogged Northeastern all season.
Entering the night, the Huskies conceded 26 goals in the second period through 18 games. The end result has been leads conceded or deficits turned unmanageable.
But on Tuesday night, the Huskies turned the second period into the launching point for their sixth win in eight games, scoring back-to-back tallies to erase a two-goal deficit and upend Yale 3-2 at Matthews Arena.
Mike McMurtry scored the game-winner on the power play late for the Huskies, knocking home a centering feed from Colton Saucerman on the goal line with under four minutes to play.
It was McMurtry’s first goal of the season, finally converting after a star-crossed season chock-full of missed scoring opportunities.
“I don’t think I’ve ever gotten chances like I’ve had this year and still that and not being able to score,” McMurtry said. “Getting that one tonight was a big relief.”
The play was set up by Saucerman who, even as a defenseman, had been straddling the goal line on the Huskies’ power plays of late.
“Because he’s a defenseman, he knows how to retrieve pucks,” Northeastern coach Jim Madigan explained. “You obviously need skill, but you need to know how to retrieve pucks, and he has great body position.”
Northeastern’s improvement over the last month – five wins in seven tries entering the night – has been spurred in part by Clay Witt’s return to regular game play after an early-season concussion, but instead, it was Derek Roy who stole the show on Tuesday, picking up 28 saves and securing back-to-back wins, the first two of his career.
It didn’t look like that would be the case early on, after the Bulldogs started the game in the driver’s seat with two goals before the 11-minute mark.
The first goal, from Trent Ruffolo, bounced in off a Northeastern skate near the crease, and was followed up just over two minutes later by Cody Learned, whose wrister beat Roy blocker side.
Through the first 30 minutes, even though the Huskies had a slight edge in shots on goal, Yale controlled the pace of play.
But as the game crossed the midway point, momentum began to turn in the Huskies’ favor as they began winning battles and getting higher-quality chances.
A power play – one of the Huskies’ strong suits over the last month or so – got them back in the game at 14:09 into the second when Torin Snyderman banged in a rebound at the right side of the crease to cut into the deficit. That goal was followed up less than two minutes later by Roy banking the puck off Alex Lyon (25 saves) to tie the game.
“I felt like we didn’t have to work for our goals in the first period,” Yale coach Keith Allain said, diagnosing the lackluster play midway through the game. “Sometimes when you get into a game like that, you get lulled into a false sense of security. They raised their level in the second, and we were clearly a little uncomfortable with it.
“Our job as coaches is to figure out how to make it a learning moment.”
Northeastern is now 6-1-1 in its last eight games, and the feeling amongst both coaches and players alike is that the team has regained its identity.
“We want to be to be one of the hardest teams to play against in this league,” McMurtry explained. “When we’re playing like we did in the second and third, that’s when we’re really hard to beat. When we’re playing five-on-five, hard-nosed hockey like we know we can, that’s when it can make a difference. We’re a resilient team.”
Part of that includes winning tussles along the boards, which Northeastern steadily improved on as the game progressed.
“We weren’t seeking out the battles all that well,” Madigan noted. “If you’re not seeking them out, you’re never going to win the puck. We did a better job of that in the second period, and it’s a little bit infectious.”
Northeastern will have a quick turnaround to resume Hockey East play on Friday against Boston College in a home-and-home series, while Yale must turn its attention to Harvard, one of the top teams in the nation, in a rumble at Madison Square Garden on Saturday.