By Chuck Frye
---- — METHUEN — Desperation has been a part of Methuen’s game for a while now. Now the Rangers may have some company.
With no margin for error where a postseason berth is concerned, the host Rangers battled back from a two-goal deficit to defeat North Andover 5-4 yesterday.
After going 0-8-4 through its first 12 games, Methuen has won two straight. Conversely, the Knights have lost three straight, two against teams they had beaten earlier in the season, and now stand at 6-8 needing nine points in their final six games to make the playoffs.
“We have to win out,” said Ranger head coach Denny Egan. “I told the kids Wednesday (a 2-1 victory over Dracut) and I told them (yesterday) that if we were tied with 1½ minutes left in the game, we were going to pull our goalie and play for the win.”
Whether that win-at-all-cost attitude had trickled down to the players is unknown, but what is known is that the Rangers peaked at the right time yesterday. They owned the majority of a physical third period and stuffed North Andover on a pair of power-plays to stay close.
“Our record is deceiving because this is the best we’ve played in six years,” said Egan. “The players are improving and they’re buying into the program. We treat the kids like our own sons, they know what to expect from us and they come ready to play.”
Methuen’s rebound started after a tough second-period stretch where a Dan Rivet pass deflected off a Ranger defenseman’s stick and into the net, followed 22 seconds later by a beautiful 5-hole wrister from Derek Hunter for a 3-1 Knights lead.
“We could have cashed it in but we came back and battled and battled,” said Egan.
The coach even had a silent timeout.
“People think it’s a time to say fantastic things, but sometimes you just settle things down, tell them, ‘Pretend I’m talking to you and relax,’” said Egan.
T.J. Gannon cut the lead in half on the power play with 2:42 left in the period when he redirected Jordan Blatti’s shot past goalie Ben Ryan (20 saves).
Two minutes later, scoring machine Matt Bauchman was sent in alone on Tom Moore’s nifty right wing pass and beat Ryan far side to tie the game.
North Andover wasn’t done as Jake Silk lured in a Methuen defenseman then hit Hunter gliding down the slot for a close wrister that flew past the blocker of netminder Christian Mazzone (24 saves, two straight wins).
But the momentum was short-lived. As they had done two other times after falling behind, the Rangers rose back up 44 seconds later when Mark Picorillo leaned past the Knights defense and whistled a perfect shot over Ryan’s left shoulder.
Then Methuen’s top line mustered up its best shift of the day with Mike Baglieri, Nick Yameen and Bauchman buzzing the net relentlessly. Finally, on his third shot of the shift, Bauchman grabbed a loose puck in the right circle and beat Ryan far side for the game-winner with 7:18 left.
“We haven’t scored a ton this season, but our offense is picking up,” said Egan. “Matty’s starting to score a little bit and our freshmen and sophomores are turning into veterans.
“We made some mental mistakes and let some guys behind us,” said North Andover head coach Peter Marfione. “We took some dumb penalties that cost us, too. We’re a different team a man down and it screws up our system. It’s tough to recover after killing two or three penalties.”
Methuen 5, North Andover 4
North Andover (6-8, 3-5): 1 2 1 — 4
Methuen (2-8-4, 1-5-2): 0 3 2 — 5
Goals: NA — Pat Sweeney 2, Derek Hunter 2; M — Matt Bauchman 2, Ryan Bradley, T.J. Gannon, Mark Piccirillo
Assists: NA — Jake Silk 2, Dan Rivet 2, Nick DiDuca, Alex Martino; M — Brandon Blum, Jordan Blatti, Tom Moore, Bradley, Gannon, Mike Baglieri
Saves: NA — Ben Ryan 20; M — Christian Mazzone 24