There are only two weekends remaining in the Hockey East regular season, with 10 teams jockeying for eight playoff slots.
The top six teams entered Saturday separated by just 3 points. And Providence went into its matchup at last-place Northeastern with a lot at stake.
Fifth-ranked New Hampshire had battled Vermont to a 1-1 overtime tie Saturday afternoon, which boosted the Wildcats (28 points) into sole possession of first place, 1 point ahead of idle Merrimack, which hosts Boston College (26 points) on Sunday afternoon.
But the Friars eked out a 3-2 victory over the Huskies in front of 2,643 at Matthews Arena to sweep the weekend set and grab a share of first place. Providence (13-10-7, 11-6-6) increased its unbeaten streak to seven games (3-0-4).
Northeastern (9-18-3, 5-15-3) must rally to reach the postseason. The Huskies’ top scorer, freshman Kevin Roy, injured his shoulder during Friday night’s 6-2 loss and wasn’t available.
“I thought it was a very good hockey game,’’ said Providence coach Nate Leaman. “I thought it was a real gutsy performance by both teams. They’re a little shorthanded.
“We couldn’t break the game open. I thought [NU goalie Chris] Rawlings was very good tonight. Even in the third period, we had two or three kind of partial breakaways or point-blankers and he came up big.”
But Leaman said the Friars aren’t celebrating anything yet.
“It was a six-game season and now it’s a four-game season,’’ said Leaman. “With the quality of play in our league this year and with the number of teams battling, I don’t think the champion will be crowned until the last game of the season.’’
The Friars took the lead at the 7:55 minute mark of the opening period. Freshman left wing Kevin Rooney delivered a spot-on backhand pass into the low slot for sophomore right wing Drew Brown, who rapped it past Rawlings for his fourth of the season.
The Friars generated the first 10 shots of the contest and finished the opening frame with 14 shots to NU’s 9.
The Huskies pulled even at 4:14 of the second on a play that started just outside the penalty box. Only seven seconds after a holding penalty on junior center Cody Ferriero expired, Ferriero emerged from the box and delivered a drop pass to senior right wing Vinny Saponari. Saponari teed up a slapper that sailed past freshman netminder Jon Gillies for his sixth tally of the year.
The Friars regained the lead a little more than two minutes later when sophomore center Ross Mauermann scored from deep in the left circle. It marked the second straight year Mauermann has reached the 10-goal mark.
Providence took a two-goal lead during a very eventful special teams battle in the third.
At 8:30, senior blue liner Alex Velischek was called for cross-checking, putting Northeastern on the power play. But the Huskies had a series of mishaps, which resulted in junior defenseman Steven Shamanski skating in on a breakaway. He did an excellent job of outwaiting Rawlings (36 saves), deking the goalie down, and beating him to make it 3-1 at 9:10.
But the Huskies rallied to pull to within one during that same power play. Mammoth sophomore defenseman Josh Manson, who is very good at making himself a pest in front of the net, set a series of screens in front of Gillies. One of NU’s bids caromed in front and Manson swatted the rebound past Gillies at 9:30 to bring it to 3-2 exactly halfway through the man advantage.
NU made a furious push at the end but the Huskies were unable to come up with the equalizer to send the contest into overtime.