WOBURN, Mass. -- No style points are awarded for game-winning goals, there's only the result.
By A.J. Couto's standards Friday night, his third goal was by far the dirtiest. But it also will likely prove to be the most memorable goal of his life.
The Danvers senior forward scored during the first minute in each the first and second periods, giving the Falcons a puncher's chance against favored No. 1 seed Beverly in the teams' Division 2 North quarterfinal game. Couto, along with his fellow seniors, had never before experienced victory over their Northeastern Conference rival.
And so Couto found himself parked at the side of the Panthers' net. He watched the carom from a point shot come off the end wall and onto his blade. He threw it back toward the goalmouth, parallel to the goal line. The puck bounced off the blade of the goaltender's right skate and across the goal line.
Couto had his hat trick and only 11 seconds separated the Falcons from a fitting celebration.
When time elapsed and Couto's third was the difference in a 4-3 win over Beverly, his thoughts were still in the past.
"We saw how they went off the ice after they won the NEC championship," Couto said about Beverly’s 4-2 win on Feb. 13. "That stuck with us. We were playing with that all game long."
The No. 8 seed Falcons (12-6-4) advance to play No. 12 Concord-Carlisle Monday in the sectional semifinal at the Chelmsford Forum.
To get there, Danvers needed some career games, including that of senior defenseman Kevin Anderson, who matched his season-long points total with a four-point game. Anderson scored a goal and had three assists to figure in each of the Falcons’ markers.
Although Couto led Danvers in goals during the regular season with 17, Falcons head coach Kevin Brown noted that he’s on an unprecedented clip of late.
"A.J. [Couto] is playing the best hockey of his career right now,” Brown said. “He's put together a string of games. He's just got a nose for the net."
Beverly (18-2-1), while being outplayed early, kept pace with the Falcons. Connor Irving score a little more than two minutes after Couto’s first of the game.
Anderson regained the lead for Danvers before hitting the room, sending a half-slap through a mass of traffic in front of Panthers goaltender Tim Birarelli at 12:02.
Couto extended the lead 42 seconds into the second with Anderson laying down the pass for the assist.
Again, the Panthers responded, following less than two minutes later with Nate McLaughlin’s first of the game. The senior forward followed with his second to tie it at 12:39 of the second, burying a beautiful saucer pass feed from Ted Leathersich (2 A) on a 3-on-2 break.
After an up-and-down period in the second, which saw plenty of quality scoring chances for either side, the play bottled up in the third.
"I think it was a natural progression of the game,” Brown said of the deciding period. “The kids left it out there in the first two periods. Credit to [Beverly] that they tied us when we had the momentum. It just kind of became a hockey game again."
The tension mounted as the Panthers turned some loose pucks into a couple of scoring chances on Alex Taylor.
While both teams encountered trouble breaking out of their own zone, the Panthers had the better of the shots in period, holding the Falcons to just one shot on goal – on the game-winner.
"I didn't really have that much of an angle, but I thought why not throw it on net,” Couto said. “I saw it slide across the goal line, hit the back of his skate and then into the net."