With goals from Casey Pickett and Brittany Esposito, and 28 saves from Florence Schelling, Northeastern women's hockey defeated Providence to win the WHEA Regular Season Championship for the first time in program history.
After Esposito beat Genevieve Lacasse to open the scoring, Pickett doubled the NU lead just 29 seconds into the second period with what proved to be the game winner. Schelling made nine crucial third-period saves for her 20th win of the season.
The win crystallizes the Hockey East playoff picture. Northeastern will be the top seed and, with No. 4 Boston College, will have a bye into the semifinals and a weekend off to rest up. Boston University will host New Hampshire in one quarterfinal, while Maine will travel to Providence for a chance at one of the top seeds in the semifinals in Hyannis, Mass.
It was Alumni and Senior Day at Matthews Arena; Northeastern women's hockey honored its three graduating members - Schelling, Pickett and graduate tri-captain Dani Rylan - as well as the seven members of its Hockey East All-Decade Team.
Providence controlled much of the tempo of a helter-skelter first period, but much like the 0-0 draw the teams played on Friday night in Providence, Schelling would not let the Huskies concede. The Friars best chance came three minutes in when Ashley Cottrell found Beth Hanrahan from behind the net, but the Swiss international made an instinctive pad save and froze the puck.
Unlike Friday's scoreless tie, however, the Northeastern offense would not be kept down for long. Freshman Kendall Coyne cycled back behind the net for Pickett, who put one on Esposito's tape just left of the slot. The Edmonton, Alberta native rifled one over Lacasse's right shoulder and into the top corner at 4:50. It was Esposito's ninth marker of the season and her first since Jan. 21 vs. New Hampshire.
At 8:28, Gavronsky went off for bodychecking, giving the nation's worst power play a chance against the country's best penalty kill. The Friars did not record a shot before Rebecca Morse put the teams at four-on-four for hitting after the whistle at 9:33.
The Huskies were outshot in the first period, 9-5, but after the intermission they went two up on just their sixth effort on goal. Esposito swung the puck up to sophomore Maggie Brennolt, who fired in from the left point. Lacasse appeared to have the shot in sight, but Pickett deflected it through the Canadian international after just 29 seconds. The goal was Pickett's 18th of the year.
From there Northeastern did well to limit Providence's scoring chances, although the possession was roughly even. Freshman Lucie Povova went off for interference at 4:46, but Esposito took the best chance of the two minutes, nearly breaking in all alone on Lacasse.
It took a five-on-three predicament for Providence's power play to break the Northeastern penalty kill. Gavronsky and freshman Ann Doherty took tripping minors midway through the second, giving the Friars a 38-second two-man advantage. Just as Gavronsky was leaving the box, Cottrell deflected Maggie Pendleton's shot past Schelling to cut the lead to 2-1. It was PC's first goal against Schelling in its 143 minutes.
Kate Bacon gave the Huskies a power play of their own with a boarding minor at 12:15, but another Pickett deflection, this time off a Doherty shot, caromed just wide of Lacasse's cage.
Anticipation and uncertainty reigned through the final minutes as Northeastern nursed a tenuous lead down to the wire. Schelling was spectacular in the late going with nine stops in the final frame, including a miraculous glove save on Hanrahan, off a feed from Bacon.
Providence mounted heavy pressure through the closing seconds, pulling Lacasse for an extra attacker, but Pickett finally took possession and drew a tripping penalty on Christie Jensen to all but ice the game at 19:15.
Northeastern will have next weekend off as the Hockey East Quarterfinals determine whom they will face in the Semifinals on March 3rd.