PROVIDENCE — Northeastern, the regular-season champion and the defending Women’s Hockey East champion, had to scramble right to the end, but managed to wrestle a 3-2 victory from Providence in the first tournament semifinal Saturday at Schneider Arena.
It will the third straight title game for Northeastern (26-5-5, 21-3-3), which will play Boston College (26-10-1, 19-7-1) on Sunday at 1:35 p.m. The teams have split four meetings.
Sixth-ranked BC breezed past eighth-ranked Boston University, 5-1, on the strength of two goals and an assist from Daryl Watts, last year’s Patty Kazmaier winner. Watts has 19 points in the last 11 games, when BC has gone 9-1-1.
BC and BU (22-7-8, 15-6-6) had more than one game on the line. The winner of the tournament gets an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament; only No. 3 Northeastern was a sure thing for an at-large bid to the eight-team tournament.
Northeastern was a little slow off the hop and fell behind in the opening minute on a slender slice off the left wing by Friar Christina Putigna, a shot that seemed to wobble over the glove of NU goalie Aerin Frankel.
But it was Frankel who bagged this game for Northeastern, making 32 saves to keep her team close and pushing her Hockey East championship record to 7-0-0. While the nation’s sixth leading offense (3.53 goals per game average entering the game) only produced offense in spurts, Frankel was consistent throughout the game.
“She was huge,’’ Northeastern coach Dave Flint said. “She’s been a rock star for us all year long. The team rallies around her and for her to bounce back after that first goal and put in the performance she did — I’m really proud of her.”
When the final buzzer sounded, Northeastern had lost its freshman phenom Alina Mueller to an upper-body injury (she was on the bench for the last five minutes with an ice bag on her right hand) and Providence (24-11-2, 16-9-2) was still swarming the NU net, but Frankel was unmoved. Providence, making its first trip to the semifinals since 2013, outshot NU, 34-18.
“Credit to my teammates,’’ Frankel said. “I was able to play relaxed because I know they’re going to block shots for me and pick up sticks in front of the net. Coach Flint is always harping on we have to take care of the D zone first and I think we had that mind-set.”
Providence opened the scoring only 18 seconds in when Putigna fired a tester off the left wing. Mueller evened the score 94 seconds later, snapping off a shot from the inside edge of the right circle.
The Huskies took a quick lead in the second period, taking advantage of a transition off a Providence give-and-go opportunity that fell through. Charlestown native Micaela Sindoris corralled the puck near the left boards and fired a pass across the zone to Matti Hartman, who nailed a clean shot past Providence’s Madison Myers at 8:47.
The Friars got the equalizer at 15:11, using some slick passing on the power play to set up Kate Friesen for a one-timer from the left circle.
The Huskies took the lead again at 17:43. From the left corner of the zone, Skylar Fontaine sent a pass into the middle to Brooke Hobson. The Providence defense blocked Hobson’s shot but freshman Chloe Aurard banged in the rebound for her 12th goal of the season.
This was BC’s ninth consecutive trip to the Hockey East semifinals. Watts got them on the right track quickly, collecting the puck off the opening faceoff and sending her team on the attack with a shot on net eight seconds in. It took only 22 seconds for Lindsay Agnew to finish off the scoring play, the Minnesota transfer netting her 15th goal of the season with assists to Makenna Newkirk and Watts.
Watts came back for more in the second period, curling around from behind the net to flip a shot off BU’s Corinne Schroeder at 3:57 on the power play. It was the 20th goal of the season for the sophomore.
BC boosted the lead to three at 11:49, another power-play goal; in this one, four Eagles got a touch, setting up a right-circle shot by Kelly Browne.
BU forced its way back into the game with a power-play goal at 14:27 when Abby Cook’s wrister from the blue line eluded BC’s Maddy McArthur.
There was more from Watts. Coming down the left wing at 16:20, she took a drop from Cayla Barnes and sent a wrist shot into the top right corner.
BC has 10 losses on its record, but it seems to have escaped the ups and downs for a straight-ahead style.
“It’s so fun to play hockey right now,’’ Watts said. “When everyone’s doing their jobs, it’s really fun.”Barbara Matson can be reached at email@example.com.