BOSTON — As expected, the Northeastern University Huskies advanced to the Hockey East semifinals, sealing their trip to TD Garden this upcoming weekend with a 2-1 win over the Maine Black Bears in game two of the best-of-three quarterfinal series.
It wasn’t easy, the result of another self-inflicted slow start in which they were lucky to be up 1-0 after the first period despite being outplayed and outshot 12 to three.
The games only get harder from here; Northeastern’s semifinal opponent, the Boston University Terriers, are fresh off of an upset series win over the No. 4 seed UMass-Lowell.
In his post-game press conference, Huskies head coach Jim Madigan sheepishly acknowledged that another sluggish first period was a concern for his team moving forward.
The question is, then, how does it get addressed?
“Obviously, we haven’t addressed it very well over the last few games,” he said.
“We’ve talked about a lot of different approaches, and none of it has worked for us. I think a lot of it is we just have to simplify; get pucks low, get in the offensive zone. We tried to do that early in the first, and what was happening was we had time and space to carry it and enter the zone, and we were just dumping them in. We have to have a little bit of poise. If there’s room to enter with possession, you should do that, but we were just dumping it in and chasing it. When you forecheck, it’s not just a dump and run, there’s a strategy of putting pucks in the right places so you can recover them. We’ve got to do a better job there. We have to get all the guys on the same page for a better start.”
Of late, the Huskies have relied heavily on two things to overcome those slow starts.
One, in Madigan’s estimation, is that his team has the most goals for in the third period; this time, however, it was a late first-period goal by Biagio Lerario that he actually ripped through the net and a 5-on-3 power play goal on a one-timer by Brandon Hawkins from the left point just 10 seconds into the second period that did the trick.
The second, one that’s certainly more obvious, is his sensational sophomore goaltender, Cayden Primeau, who again rose to the challenge when the lights shined the brightest.
The Montreal Canadiens prospect was once again excellent on Saturday night at Matthews Arena; the Huskies were outshot 34-17, but Primeau allowed just one goal, a 5-on-3 power play goal on a one-timer from the left circle off the stick of Jacob Schmidt-Svejstrup at the 8:42 mark of the second period to cut Maine’s deficit in half.
“I think we play the game knowing we can take some chances because we’ve got a guy who’s going to stop the puck back there,” Madigan said. “I think any team that has a good goalie does that. Maine does that, they’ve got a very good goaltender. Boston College, Boston University have that. I think all of us do it because we know if we mess up, he can cover for us.”
The 19-year-old allowed just two goals all series in more than 124 minutes of play, although Maine actually managed to put the puck in his net on four separate occasions on Saturday night.
Unfortunately for the Black Bears, only Schmidt-Svejstrup’s actually counted. Brendan Robbins has appeared to have potentially scored a first-period breakaway goal on Primeau, only for the play to have been called dead due to what were, at the time, unclear circumstances.
“It was a hand pass that led to Robbins going in, and he didn’t hear the whistle,” Maine head coach Red Gendron explained.
“When [Alexis] Binner got knocked down, he went on his belly and the puck hit his glove and he pushed his glove. Brendan went down on the breakaway, but the play was dead as soon as he touched the puck.”
The two other disallowed goals were more obvious; one was called back due to the puck being played with a blatant high stick, the other after it was pushed in with a glove. It seems that was the only way the Black Bears were going to be able to beat Primeau at even strength.
All in all, it was another big game performance from someone who has more than proven himself to be a big game goaltender. Primeau was asked after the game just what it is about his mentality or mindset that allow to him to perform the way he does on the bigger stage.
“I try not to look at bigger games as if it’s a bigger game, I try to approach everything the same,” he said. “I just try to go out there and do my job, which is give my team the best opportunity to win. You’re always just focusing on the next shot.”
Mike Ashmore has 17 years of experience covering professional and college sports. You can follow him on all social media channels at @mashmore98.