FITCHBURG -- North Middlesex and Lunenburg-Ayer-Shirley were on the same page Wednesday night inside the Wallace Civic Center as both sides played to a 2-2 draw.
It was a grind-it-out kind of game; when when one team looked to be dictating the tempo, the other would respond accordingly. The Patriots jumped out to a 2-0 lead five minutes into the period, but defensive lapses allowed the Blue Knights to level the score.
The Patriots are still very much alive in the playoff picture with an overall record of 3-7-1.
"We have nine games left, and out of the nine we need to win seven," said North Middlesex head coach Mike McCarthy. "We need to go 7-2. Everyone on our schedule is beatable. We're playing teams in our bracket that we should be able to compete with on a night-in and night-out basis."
North Middlesex controlled the puck in their offensive zone for much of the period, with good cycles down low. The Patriots were able to cash in on an unassisted gem by Danny McNamara at 4:53 of the first period. McNamara skated the puck in from behind the cage and unleashed a wrister, low stick side through a miniscule gap past his cousin, Blue Knights' net-minder Alec McNamara, to put the Pats up 1-0.
Lunenburg/Ayer-Shirley went on the counterattack a minute later, when junior forward Josh DeFazio let loose a wrist shot that North Middlesex goaltender Ryan Twomey snared with the glove. The Patriots continued to keep McNamara in the pressure cooker with
Miles Massidda had his shot just over the blue line stonewalled, as Jay Cobleigh crashed the slot. Cobleigh settled the rebound and coaxed the puck by McNamara left side to give North Middlesex a 2-0 lead at 9:56 of the first period.
Lunenburg/Ayer-Shirley dug deep and weathered the early stinging provided by the North Middlesex offense, and answered at 12:19 of the first period. Blue Knights' captain, Dan Hughes walloped a slapper in from the blue line that was hammered home by freshman David Fors from the left side. DeFazio was also credited with an assist on the goal, which brought the Panthers back within one, 2-1.
The Blue Knights came out in the second period looking to test Twomey a bit more than they had in the first period. North Middlesex outshot the Blue Knights in the first period by a margin of 9-4. In the second period Twomey stood on his head, making 13 saves. Sophomore forward Dan Baldino raked a puck on net at 11:30 of the second period, but Twomey was able to stack the pads and prevent any damage.
In the final minute of play, Twomey weathered a three-shot barrage from Baldino and Tom Wagner. Lunenburg/Ayer-Shirley continued to knock on the door as the period came to a close, but they could not find a way to beat Twomey.
In the third period it was a turnover at neutral ice which led to the tying goal. Lunenburg/Ayer-Shirley scored on a nifty goal late in the third period. Baldino chipped a pass from the right face-off circle with precision to a crashing Wagner, who clanged it off the far post and in. Twomey was drawn off his line, which led to an opening on the left side of the cage for Wagner's game-tying goal at 7:15 of the third period.
North Middlesex's first-liners had ample opportunities on goal in the game, but McNamara (27 saves) had a stellar night in the crease for the Blue Knights.
P.J. Dupre made a stellar spin move at the top of the point with 20 seconds left in regulation and fired a rocket that was stymied by McNamara. Picking up a draw for both teams bodes well, as points this late in the season are few and far between.
"I thought Lunenburg battled as hard as we did," said McCarthy. "It was a back-and-forth, good, fun hockey game. I thought our goals were scored by hard work and outworking them at the points. Both of their goals were just lapses on our part. Those are plays you don't want to make if you want to win games."