When UConn and Northeastern faced off in a home-and-home series three weeks ago, UConn put 103 shots on goal over the course of the two games but walked away with two losses after a spectacular 100-save weekend by Northeastern goalie Devon Levi.
In the Hockey East semifinals on Saturday, UConn got its revenge. The Huskies defeated Northeastern — the regular season champions and top seed in the playoffs — by a final score of 4-1 to advance to their first-ever Hockey East championship game.
Levi came into the game with a program-record 10 shutouts on the season and ranked first in the nation with a .954 save percentage and third with a 1.47 goals against average. He made the Canadian Olympic team and was named Hockey East Rookie of the Year.
UConn knew it couldn’t just come in with a typical game plan and expect to beat him. The Huskies posted two players in front of the goal at all times — a change from their last meetings.
“We talked about having two guys at the net at all times,” head coach Mike Cavanaugh said. “I thought the last time we played him, we got a lot of shots but we only had one guy at the net...Very rarely are you going to beat him with just one guy at the net.”
The tactic worked. Not only did UConn out-shoot Northeastern 37-25, but a significant number of its chances also came from inside the house — the area in front of goal between the two face-off circles. The Huskies had 21 attempts from in close — including all three of their goals with Levi in net.
“Obviously, we knew who we were going up against and we didn’t want to change too much,” Ryan Tverberg said. “We just knew that we needed to get more grade-A’s and bury our chances and do the best that we can with quantity as well.”
Vladislav Firstov opened the scoring in the first period after Nick Capone whacked a pass from Chase Bradley into the area just outside the crease. The deflection from Capone threw Levi off balance and allowed Firstov to collect the puck with his skate and send it into the open net.
In the second period, Bradley beat Levi with a shot from the face-off circle that hit the post. Roman Kinal crashed in from the blue line and knocked home the loose puck to put UConn up 2-1.
“There were rebounds and kind of broken plays that we scored on,” Cavanaugh said. “Nobody really beat him clean.”
Cavanaugh’s statement wasn’t completely true, though. In the early minutes of the third period, Tverberg stole a pass at the top of the face-off circle in UConn’s offensive zone, skated towards the net, and made a move that sent Levi sprawling to the ice. Tverberg took the puck across the front of goal and tucked it in to extend the lead to 3-1.
That play was the exception, though. UConn didn’t need that individual brilliance to beat Levi, it just provided an added bonus after earning the lead with two greasy goals. Levi stole two games against the Huskies earlier in the season. UConn made an adjustment to make sure it didn’t happen again.
The Huskies came in with a clear offensive game plan: Get two bodies in front of net first, follow it up with shots, and create as much chaos as possible for Levi. UConn executed it to perfection and used it to move on to the Hockey East championship.