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Northeastern 4, BU 2

Northeastern gets the edge

Terriers tumble in playoff opener

By John Powers
Globe Staff / March 11, 2011

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Last year they never got here, going from a chance at home ice to nowhere on the final weekend by absorbing a double-dip from Boston University. So Northeastern’s irrepressible hockey team is out for a bit of payback, hoping to end the Terriers’ season while extending its own.

“Today’s a new day,’’ said goalie Chris Rawlings after the sixth-seeded Huskies upended third-seeded BU, 4-2, last night before 3,039 at Agganis Arena to take the opener of this best-of-three Hockey East quarterfinal. “We can’t worry about the past.’’

The past hasn’t been particularly kind to NU, which hasn’t won a playoff series on the road since it beat Boston College in 1991 in a one-game format. But if they can win tonight, the Huntington Hounds will proceed to the Garden for next week’s semifinals and BU (18-11-8), which began the season on a 10-game unbeaten run, likely will be finished.

“We certainly have to get to the Garden and probably win Hockey East,’’ figured coach Jack Parker, who hasn’t had a team stopped before Causeway Street since BU lost to Providence in 2001.

Northeastern (13-14-8), which is still underwater after a 1-7-3 start, needs to take the trophy to make the NCAA Tournament for the second time in three years.

“I liked our team early,’’ said coach Greg Cronin, who was back behind the bench after serving a six-game suspension for recruiting violations. “We just couldn’t win.’’

The Huskies have been playing markedly better since the Beanpot, tying and beating BC, drawing at New Hampshire and edging BU, 4-3, here in last weekend’s regular-season finale after nine straight losses at Agganis.

“We just needed to get over the hump by finally beating them here,’’ said center Steve Silva, who scored the winner in that game and contributed two goals and an assist last night.

This was the third time these crosstown rivals met in seven days but the first time they’d faced off in the playoffs since 1997, when BU easily brought the Hounds to heel by 6-2 and 7-1 counts and went on to play for the national championship.

This time, though, Northeastern figured to be a decidedly more difficult opponent. Indeed, the Huskies not only drew first blood, they led, 2-1, after the first period and had a shorthanded bid denied by BU goalie Kieran Millan.

Silva put his mates up on the power play after 8:16, knocking in a rebound off Brodie Reid’s slapper from the point. It was the first time in 26 tries that the Terriers failed to kill a penalty, but they didn’t stay down long, thanks to a bit of initiative from their fourth line.

Justin Courtnall, who scored only once all season, poked in a loose puck out of a goal-mouth scrum 41 seconds later to draw BU even.

But the visitors kept gnawing away. Silva nearly put them ahead a few minutes later when his shot clinked off the pipe, and Millan soon had to stop a couple of shorthanded bids, denying Steve Quailer and then Mike McLaughlin on the rebound.

When the Huskies broke through, it came on what seemed to be a routine bid by Wade MacLeod, but the puck hit Millan on the shoulder, went past him, and it was 2-1 with 1:55 left in the period.

The Terriers figured to respond in the second, but it was Northeastern that went for the knockout blow, scoring twice in the first nine minutes.

Braden Pimm, the fourth-line freshman center, stung the hosts by stealing the puck in the neutral zone, dashing in, and scoring between Millan’s legs at 2:53.

It was the first time BU had trailed by two since it fell behind Harvard in the Beanpot consolation game, and Silva made it three at 8:42.

Yet there still was ample time for a revival, and defenseman Ryan Ruikka popped in a rebound at 4:22 of the third period to make it 4-2.

BU squandered a marvelous possibility when Garrett Vermeersch and Quailer were both in the box, creating a five-on-three advantage for 37 seconds with 8:43 to play.

But Rawlings, who made 14 of his 37 saves in the period, stood tall and the hosts got nothing.

When Pimm was whistled off with just under three minutes left, Parker pulled Millan to give his attackers another two-man edge but they couldn’t connect, ending the evening 1 for 9 on the power play.

“We got beat by a team that was a little more determined and a little hungrier than we were,’’ said Parker.

If his guys can’t develop more of an appetite tonight, they’ll have an opportunity for an experience few Terriers ever get and none want: a spring-break vacation.