Hartford, CT- Northeastern and Connecticut have lived at different ends of the Hockey East standings this season. The Boston huskies have hovered at or near the top of the conference while Connecticut’s dogs have occupied the basement. The teams met at the XL Center on Thursday night in the only college hockey game on the national schedule and UConn reminded Northeastern of Hockey East’s difficulty with a critical upset.
Northeastern got the opening possession their way but surrendered the first goal. Nashville draft pick Jachym Kondelik received a clean pass from Roman Kinal, bid his time to draw NU goalie Cayden Primeau onto his front, and put a shot top shelf for a 1-0 lead. UConn was outshot 16-10, but fellow Predator pick Tomas Vomacka proved up to the task in net, stopping all 16 faced shots.
Northeastern lost the second period’s shot counter 14-9 but capitalized on a golden chance. Only 4:56 into the frame, Ruslan Iskhakov took a tripping minor and gave Northeastern a power play. Half-way into the advantage, Zach Solow found space in front, curled, and beat Vomacka five-hole to tie the game at 1-1. UConn did not crack Primeau’s armor and sent the game to the second intermission tied.
The third period and overtime saw UConn show maturity and growth both through the course of a tough season and game. Northeastern started by capitalizing on a blown coverage in front. Grant Jozefek left Eric Williams a puck to bury and the captain did the honors 2:03 into the regulation finale. UConn got chances but missed plenty to lose the shot counter 8-5 in the frame.
Still, UConn mounted a late charge to tie the game. Ruslan Iskhakov whipped a shot on net and sophomore Brian Rigali tipped the puck over a screened Primeau for the game-tying goal. Overtime was similar. Northeastern never got a shot. UConn got three and finally cracked the game-winner when Alexander Payusov landed his 14th of the season and broke UConn’s six-game overall winless streak and eleven game conference winless streak.
Sasha Payusov delivers the game-winner 1:05 into overtime and the Huskies end a 12-game #HEA winless drought! The #IceBus is back at home on Saturday hosting Merrimack at 5 pm pic.twitter.com/mfNskwOulq
An incensed Jim Madigan needed only 12 seconds to explain his frustration with his team after the game. “Credit UConn for finding a way to win. Our situational hockey, our game management, and our puck management just sucked and gave them the second goal, the third goal, and they won the game.”
Cayden Primeau recorded 29 saves.
Northeastern falls to 16-9-1 overall, 9-7-1 in HEA. They stay in fourth place in HEA at 19 points, one behind UMass Lowell and two behind Boston College. The loss also drops NU from 11th in the Pairwise rankings to 14th. Madigan’s squad returns to Boston for a chance at their second consecutive Beanpot on Monday night against Boston College. Puck drop is scheduled for 7:30 against the Eagles at TD Garden.
Mike Cavanaugh was elated. “We needed that one. I thought we’ve been playing pretty well since we’ve been here on the homestand. We just haven’t gotten the results. Tonight, we stayed with it. I was very proud of the guys because we talked about staying with it no matter what. Miles (Gendron) challenged the team to get the first goal and that gave us some energy. When they scored that early goal in the third, I liked how we stayed with our game plan.”
Tomas Vomacka tied a career high in saves at 31. Senior Karl El-Mir assisted on all three goals, setting a career high with three points.
UConn improves to 8-17-2 overall and 3-12-2 in HEA play. The Huskies tie Merrimack with 8 points for the last place in Hockey East standings. They sit seven points back of Maine for the final conference playoff spot. The Hartford homestand continues for two more nights. UConn hosts Merrimack on Saturday night then starts a home and home with Boston University. Puck drop against the Warriors is slated for 5:05 pm on the 9th while the two BU games are scheduled for 7 pm on Friday at the XL Center and Saturday at Agganis Arena.