Junior Vinny Saponari provided the overtime heroics for the second time to cap the Huskies' 2011-12 season in uplifting fashion by defeating No. 4 Boston University in overtime, 5-4, on Saturday night at Matthews Arena.
Saponari found the back of the net off of sophomore Luke Eibler's rebound 2:35 into overtime to force the Terriers to take the No. 3 seed in the 2012 Hockey East Tournament.
Four Huskies posted multi-point performances in the thrilling victory, including juniors Garrett Vermeersch, Alex Tuckerman, Steve Quailer and sophomore Braden Pimm. Pimm, Tuckerman and Vermeersch joined junior Drew Ellement as the goal scorers in regulation.
Northeastern's season finale yielded a total of 54 combined penalty minutes as each club went 1-for-7 on the power play.
Sophomore goaltender Clay Witt earned his first victory of the season in his third start of 2011-12 by stopping 36-of-40 shots, matching a season from the Harvard contest in the Beanpot (Feb. 13). BU's Grant Rollheiser was dealt his first loss of the season in his fourth start.
The special teams' units were put to were from the get-go when Boston University gained a 48-second 4-on-3 advantage at 2:15 after junior Vinny Saponari was sat down for a hooking call. Witt withstood the BU barrage and kept the Terriers off the board during the man-advantage.
BU's defense was sturdy in the beginning, keeping Northeastern's shot total at a dull roar until junior Drew Ellement registered the first shot at 5:04 of the first period. The Huskies kept it in the zone, forced a faceoff in front of Rollheiser and Pimm drew first blood on a tip at 6:15.
Pimm won the draw out to Quailer in between the circles and quickly kicked it up to sophomore Anthony Bitetto on the blue line. Bitetto blasted it towards Rollheiser and Pimm was waiting on the near post to redirect the puck over Rollheiser's mitt for the 1-0 lead.
The Huskies could not convert on power play opportunities and Sean Escobedo knotted it up, 1-1, on a wrister from the left side at 18:39. Chris Connolly took in a feed from Matt Nieto and Escobedo put it by Witt on the give-and-go play.
Thirty-five seconds into the second stanza, Connolly duped Witt on a tip-on similar to Pimm's tally for the 2-1 lead. Adam Clendening provided Connolly with a dish from the blue line to generated the scoring play at 00:35.
Northeastern wasted no time cinching it back up off another successful faceoff play at 2:16. Pimm won the draw in the low zone to Rollheiser's left and pushed the puck up ahead where Tuckerman got good lumber on it and swept it through Rollheiser's pads to make it 2-2.
Ellement recouped the lead for the Huskies on a long-range wrister from beyond the blue at 3:43. Quailer dumped the puck into the near corner and Tuckerman fended off his man to connect up top with Ellement on the pass. Ellement corralled it, skated across the zone and tossed it past Rollheiser to make it 3-2.
At 4:11, Bitetto was whistled for boarding and it proved costly as Garrett Noonan roofed the equalizer at 6:02. Connolly accepted the disc from Alexx Privitera and sent the cross-ice feed to Noonan for the one-timer on the near post lock it at 3-3.
Northeastern gained a 5-on-3 opportunity for 1:13 after Privitera and Ryan Ruikka went off, respectively, at 9:29 (slashing) and 10:16 (holding) of the second frame. The Huskies were stopped up, but on their next power play chance, Vermeersch went bar down to push ahead once again.
Casey Hohmann was assessed for tripping at 16:20 and Vermeersch capitalized with an absolute sniper from between the circles at 18:06. Junior Drew Daniels carted the puck around the near corner and released up to Vermeersch to trigger the power play marker.
Boston University struck early in the third to force the fourth tie of the contest at the 3:14 mark. Patrick MacGregor initiated the play behind Rollheiser and shoved the puck out to Connolly at the half boards. Connolly raced through the neutral zone with Noonan flanking to his left. Connolly connected with Noonan in stride to beat Witt with a hard snap shot to sew it up, 4-4.
The Huskies penalty-killing unit staved off a huge 5-on-3 for the Terriers starting at 11:17 of the third stanza. D. Daniels took a hold at 10:04 and Ellement followed him into the box at 11:17 for obstruction interference. Witt deflected rubber from all angles and Pimm nearly benefitted from a botched puck behind BU's net, but after wheeling around, Escobedo sprawled out to deny the open net.
After killing off the two-man advantage, the Huskies gained the extra man when Alex Chiasson was hauled away from a trip at 13:38. NU could not break through and eventually, Boston University picked up 1:11 of 5-on-3 after junior Steve Morra (17:27 - boarding) and sophomore Luke Eibler (18:16 - high-sticking) went to the bin.
Witt made one big save on the doorstop and NU's penalty killers did a steady job of minimizing any other grade-A chances to close the two-man advantage on the Terriers. BU could not end the game in regulation on the power play and as the Huskies forced the extra session.
Two minutes into overtime, Northeastern sustained heavy pressure and Saponari ended the game off of Eibler's rebound at 2:35 to cap the season with a 5-4 overtime victory. Vermeersch won a battle on his own blue line and chopped it over to Eibler. Eibler triggered on Rollheiser and the puck jutted back out to Saponari on the near post. Saponari backhanded it to the back of the net for the walk-off marker.
Northeastern finishes its season with an overall mark of 13-16-5 and a Hockey East record of 9-14-4. The Huskies tied for eighth place in the league with Massachusetts, but by virtue of the third tiebreaker (wins over the first-place team: Boston College), the Minutemen move on to the Hockey East Tournament.
- Northeastern honored three members of the 2008-09 class before tonight's contest, including Mike McLaughlin, Steve Quailer and Alex Tuckerman. McLaughlin's four years of eligibility are up, but Quailer and Tuckerman have one more thanks to a medical redshirt.
- Northeastern's 5-4 overtime win over BU counts for just the third victory in extra time in 215 meetings all-time. The last time NU came away with an OT victory over the Terriers wasat home on Jan. 16, 1998. The Huskies snapped a mark of 0-2-7 against the Terriers in overtime.
- Northeastern has won two games in overtime this season and Vinny Saponari has provided the heroics on both occasions. Before tonight's win over BU, Saponari scored the game-winner in OT against Massachusetts on Feb. 3.
- Braden Pimm and Garrett Vermeersch joined Ludwig Karlsson as the three Huskies to score 10 goals this season. Karlsson finished first in points (10-16-26), while Steve Quailer matched his freshman year total of 25 (8-17-25) for second and Vermeersch's career-best 24 points (10-14-24) were third this season.