Huskies take game 1 of Hockey East quarterfinals

Cayden+Primeau%2C+NU%27s+starting+goalie%2C+will+have+his+work+cut+out+for+him+against+No.+1+UMass+this+weekend.+File+photo+by+Albert+Tamura
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Huskies take game 1 of Hockey East quarterfinals

Cayden Primeau, NU's starting goalie, will have his work cut out for him against No. 1 UMass this weekend. File photo by Albert Tamura

Cayden Primeau, NU's starting goalie, will have his work cut out for him against No. 1 UMass this weekend. File photo by Albert Tamura

Cayden Primeau, NU's starting goalie, will have his work cut out for him against No. 1 UMass this weekend. File photo by Albert Tamura

Cayden Primeau, NU's starting goalie, will have his work cut out for him against No. 1 UMass this weekend. File photo by Albert Tamura

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By Calli Remillard, sports editor

The Northeastern men’s hockey team won 3-2 over the University of Massachusetts in game one of a best-of-three Hockey East quarterfinal series Friday.

The game was an addition to the season-long showcase of their talented roster, ability to play a 200-foot game and hunger for the Hockey East title.

“We found a way to come back and win the game, and that’s what playoff hockey is all about,” head coach Jim Madigan said in a post-game press conference following the game, streamed by Hockey East.

The Huskies climbed their way to the top this season in conference play, scoring, power-play goals and goaltending. Their top line of Adam Gaudette, Dylan Sikura and captain Nolan Stevens is one of the best offensive lines in the nation, and first-year goaltender Cayden Primeau is no different, leading the conference in goaltending with a 1.8003 goals against average and a save percentage of .937.

Both teams exchanged shots during the early minutes of the opening period, but the pressure was on in the Minutemen’s defensive zone. Center John Picking caught UMass goaltender Ryan Winschow on the wrong side of the pipes early on with a pass across the crease to Austin Goldstein, but the first-year winger came up just shy of the net.

The Huskies relied equally on their defensemen and forwards, consistently setting up their defensive lines for plays out front of the net. The Minutemen’s defense put a lot of focus on NU’s ‘Big Three’ in an attempt to stifle the Huskies’ scoring, but this tactic opened up NU defensemen Garrett Cecere, Trevor Owens and Jeremy Davies, all of whom were big shot makers in the first period, firing a few top-shelf shots on Winschow in an attempt to score.

A quick turnover in the UMass defensive zone got the puck to Sikura in a two-on-one situation with less than a minute to go in the period. Sikura flipped a backhand no-look pass to Gaudette, who fired a one-timer from the left face off circle only to be shut down with a big save by Winschow. The save sent the teams into the locker room after a scoreless 20 minutes of play.

Gaudette and Sikura have mustered up a combined 107 points this season and lead Hockey East in scoring with 36 and 30 points in conference games, respectively.  

The Minutemen offense came back heavy in the second period and sent three shots at Primeau in the first 1:30 of the period. Both teams’ defensive lines were smothering the other’s offense, keeping the game scoreless, though not for lack of trying on either side.

The first penalty call of the game came at 9:07 in the second, after Cecere was tossed head first into the boards behind Primeau by UMass’ Jake Gaudet. The five-minute major gave the Huskies their first power-play of the game.

Northeastern’s power-play unit is a force to be reckoned with this season, currently ranked fourth in the country with a 26.49 scoring percentage on the power-play.

It didn’t take long for the Huskies to pot one on the man advantage defenseman Jeremy Davies nipped one from the center point and found Stevens in the slot, who sent it backhand past Winschow just 45 seconds into the man advantage.

First-year Zach Solow tried to make it two before the end of the power-play with two consecutive one-timers in the slot, but the puck was redirected wide of the net.

Davies came up with a big assist just a few minutes later, giving the puck to Sikura in the right faceoff circle and sending a rocket straight past Winschow, making it 2-0 before the end of the power-play.

“I thought on our [penalty kill] we did a good job of not letting them gain entry on their breakouts,” Madigan said. “We did a good job on the blue line and when they did get pucks in deep, we were able to get back there first and get clears. Our power-play is so good and coach [Jerry] Keefe does such a good job with it, and it’s number one in our league and one of the top in the country, but since early December we’ve been really good on the [penalty kill] and coach [Jason] Smith does a great job with [it].”

First-year Austin Albrecht got one back for the Minutemen as the game returned to even strength, beating Primeau with a left wrister. It was the first goal scored on the first-year goaltender since the Huskies’ game at Vermont on Feb. 17, a span of 157 game minutes.

Primeau was big in the net in the minutes following the UMass goal, coming up with a timely split leg save to keep the puck out of the Huskies’ crease.

The Minutemen tied the game at two less than three minutes into the third period, with Brett Boeing beating Primeau though traffic in the crease for the goal.

UMass jumped in the driver’s seat for most of the third period, controlling the play and putting shot after shot on Primeau, who stayed big in net and kept the Minutemen at bay.

“I don’t think those guys get enough credit,” Sikura said at the press conference. “They’re a good hockey team, and they pushed us tonight.”

Northeastern was called on their first penalty of the game with 8:21 to go, sending Patrick Schule into the box for interference.

NU’s penalty kill got the job done, closing out any advances from the Minutemen. Just seconds after Schule came out of the box, Gaudette found Sikura in the slot, setting him up for a swift one-timer through a screen to give the home team a 3-2 lead and lock in the team’s 22nd victory of the season.

Sikura’s second goal of the game earned him the leading spot for power-play goals in the NCAA with 13 this season.

Only two penalties were called throughout the 60 minutes of play, a stark contrast to the last meeting of the two teams, where there were more than 10 penalties.

“It was physical, and I think we expected a little bit of that,” Madigan said. “We expect [Gaudette, Sikura and Stevens] to get a lot of attention, and they had a few of their guys… just in [Gaudette’s] face all game long. But it’s playoff hockey, so you don’t get those calls.”

Both teams turned up the heat as the clock ticked down, with UMass trying to tie it up and the Huskies working to fend them off. Primeau’s big glove save kept the Minutemen out of the net, but the visitors pulled Winschow in favor of an extra attacker with less than two minutes to go.

UMass passed around the Huskies’ defensive zone looking to set up a play, but Primeau snagged the puck mid-air for a big glove with 34 seconds to go, ultimately squashing UMass’ remaining momentum.

With the Huskies ahead by one, the teams will face off again tomorrow night to perhaps close the best-of-three set early. Puck drop is set for 7 p.m. at Matthews Arena.