First came the drought, then came the deluge.
The University of New Hampshire’s last two trips to Northeastern’s Matthews Arena resulted in a pair of fruitless Hockey East contests: a 4-0 shutout Oct. 14, 2011, and a scoreless draw Oct. 27, 2012.
But on Friday night, the third-ranked Wildcats snapped their scoring drought to post a 3-1 victory over the Huskies before a Matthews Arena crowd of 2,663.
“That was a tough 2 points,’’ said a relieved UNH coach Dick Umile, whose Wildcats (16-6-2, 11-5-1) remained in second place in the league with 23 points, 2 behind Boston College.
The Wildcats got second-period goals 44 seconds apart by Grayson Downing and Eric Knodel. After Vinny Saponari beat UNH netminder Casey DeSmith (47 saves) at 7:25 of the second, the Wildcats tacked on a power-play goal by John Henrion at 1:46 of the third to seal the victory.
“The third goal was huge,’’ said Umile, whose penalty killers erased four penalties in the third period and limited NU to seven shots on the man advantage, including a 6-on-4 over the final 1:37.
“A one-goal lead down here would be tough [to hold], but all of a sudden we get the penalties and made it more difficult for ourselves, but the guys handled the penalty kill pretty good, especially at the end.’’
The Huskies (7-13-3, 4-11-3) dropped to 4-6-3 at Matthews this season, 0-3-2 in their last five home games. NU’s last home win came Nov. 11, a 3-1 over Alabama-Huntsville. Since then, the Huskies have gone stone cold on their home ice.
“It’s disappointing, for sure, that we haven’t been able to hold home ice,’’ said NU coach Jim Madigan, whose team will have to regroup before facing Boston University in the first game of Monday’s Beanpot doubleheader at TD Garden.
“[Matthews] used to be a tough place for people to come in and play and we just haven’t made it that way. It’s something we’re cognizant of, and we talked about it this week in practice and I thought we had a good week of preparation. But we talked about having five more home games left and if we can hold home ice then that’s going to help us get into the playoff picture.’’
Despite a sluggish start, the Huskies, behind netminder Chris Rawlings (24 saves), managed to keep UNH off the boards in the first period.
The Wildcats arrived last having scored at Matthews Arena on Feb. 26, 2011.
The Wildcats’ goal drought finally ended in the second period — after 1:50:29 of play — when Downing chipped home a rebound of Dan Correale’s whack from the left wing to give UNH the lead at 4:01.
The Wildcats didn’t have to wait as long for their next goal — 44 seconds, to be precise — when Knodel took a centering pass from Kevin Goumas (two assists) along the right boards and unloaded from the top of the slot.
Saponari pulled the Huskies within 2-1 when he tallied his fifth goal of the season at 7:25. He camped out in front of the net and chipping in a rebound of Kevin Roy’s redirect after Colton Saucerman threw it on net from the right boards.
But Saponari seemed to give the goal back when he drew a hooking penalty with 8.2 seconds left before the end of the second. It wound up proving costly in the third when Henrion scored with five seconds left on the man advantage at 1:46.
It was the buffer UNH needed to withstand a furious effort by the Huskies, who peppered DeSmith with 15 shots in the third, pulling Rawlings with two minutes left to step up the attack further.
“We ran into a hot goalie,’’ Madigan said. “Give UNH credit. They kind of played rope-a-dope the last 10 minutes [of the game] and played smart, and their goalie played really well.
“We’ve just got to find a way to hold home court a little bit better than we have lately.’’