LOWELL — One of the most discussed aspects of Hockey East this season has been the change in scheduling.
During the 2013-14 campaign, the 11 teams in the league will play just 20 Hockey East games, versus 27 a year ago.
That places significantly more emphasis on each contest given the smaller sample that will decide how the standings shake out at the end of the year.
Northeastern went into its game Saturday against No. 12 UMass-Lowell at the Tsongas Center without a conference victory at 0-2-0.
The River Hawks, on the other hand, were 2-0-0.
The Huskies desperately needed to break into the victory column, and they earned a 4-2 decision in front of 6,301.
“I thought we grew tonight as a team,’’ said NU coach Jim Madigan. “As a coaching staff, we didn’t chat with our guys about it being a must-win. Certainly from a staff perspective, we knew it was a big game. It was a must-win because of the short league season but our guys played with poise and composure and they practiced all week with it so there was a sense of confidence coming into the building.’’
The River Hawks got the jump on the visitors during a power play. At 6:54, sophomore right wing Adam Chapie made it 1-0 when he skated out of the left corner and beat junior goaltender Clay Witt (32 saves) on a rebound shot.
NU (6-3-0) bounced back to tie it at 13:50, also during the man advantage. Sophomore left wing Kevin Roy did the honors, popping in a shot from the right circle for his eighth goal of the season.
The Huskies took their first lead at 15:54 when freshman center Mike Szmatula beat UML goaltender Connor Hellebuyck (19 saves) from just outside the right post.
NU got into some penalty trouble in the second period and UML (5-4-0) had a two-man advantage for 38 seconds. The Huskies killed off the 5-on-3 but surrendered a 5-on-4 goal just as the two-man advantage expired. Senior right wing Derek Arnold made it a 2-2 game at 10:59 when he beat Witt from deep in the left circle.
Less than a minute and a half later NU regained the lead on an even-strength tally by freshman center Dalen Hedges, who beat Hellebuyck from just outside the left post at 12:24.
UMass-Lowell turned up the pressure in the third period in an effort to pull even but Witt staved off the challenge.
At 15:11, the River Hawks had an opportunity to close the gap when NU sophomore defenseman Colton Saucerman was assessed an interference penalty.
With one second remaining on the man advantage, sophomore defenseman Christian Folin appeared to bury a blast from the left point with 2:50 left in regulation, but after a review it was determined the puck had not crossed the line.
After the ensuing faceoff in the left circle, Folin tried again from a similar spot but the shot went right into the body of Witt.
The Huskies closed it out with an empty-net strike by junior right wing Torin Snydeman with 36.1 seconds remaining.