BOSTON — Being the backup goaltender to Hobey Baker finalist Ty Conklin generally offers about as much limelight as the role of Maytag repairman, but Friday night, the understudy stole the show.
New Hampshire netminder Matt Carney — who entered the evening with only two career wins in a handful of appearances — came up big with 29 saves to shut down hard-luck Boston University, as the Wildcats overcame a 1-0 deficit to beat the Terriers 2-1 before a sellout crowd of 3,806 at Walter Brown Arena.
Eric Lind scored the first goal and Colin Hemingway notched the game-winner fairly early in the third period for the Wildcats (7-3-1, 3-2-0), while Dan Cavanaugh knocked one home for BU (2-5-1, 1-4-1 Hockey East). Sean Fields had 19 saves for the Terriers but couldn’t match his goaltending counterpart.
It was a long-awaited and sweet homecoming for Carney — a native of Bridgewater, Mass. — who played a phenomenal game in his first Hockey East start at a rink he had played at years ago in high school.
“I was almost in tears out there after the game when everyone was like hugging me and stuff,” Carney said. “It’s been a long time coming, waiting for this. I’ve known I could do it all along, and it’s really been a confidence battle with myself. But it’s a double-edged sword: I’m sitting behind the best goalie in the country.
“He’s just great, and I’ve got to wait my turn.”
Carney spent his freshman year primarily riding the pine, only to suddenly find that UNH had recruited Conklin to complement the capable Sean Matile. As a result, he opted for a year off with Des Moines in the USHL.
“That was probably the best decision I made,” Carney said. “The experience you get in the USHL is unbelievable — the travel, and the back-to-back games.”
Carney returned to UNH last year, only to find himself stuck behind one of the hottest goalies in the nation. But Friday was his turn to shine.
BU coach Jack Parker gave Carney his due and still refuses to panic about his team’s sagging fortunes.
“It’s too bad you don’t add up the yardage; you just add up the score,” Parker said. “We got effort; we got opportunities, and I thought we played hard tonight.
“I just thought we were snake-bitten around their net. I thought both goalies played great. And I thought Carney made some big saves in the third period when he needed to.”
The first period featured several almost-but-not-quite scoring opportunities, but very few real threats to light the lamp. When opportunity knocked, both teams generally failed to answer.
The best chance of the period came at 13:30, when Wildcat freshman Nathan Martz found himself going mano a mano with Fields from 10 feet out. Fields went on his side and pinwheeled his legs, but Martz popped the shot over the crossbar.
After the dearth of scoring opportunities in the first period, fans who lingered in the concession lines during the intermission were startled to miss the game’s first goal just 41 seconds into the second stanza.
In the neutral zone, Mike Bussoli caromed a pass off the boards to circumvent a Wildcat defender. Cavanaugh received the pass and raced in on the wing before shooting. Carney made the initial save but left a rebound at the top of the crease. Cavanaugh beat teammate John Sabo to the puck and banged home his own rebound to give BU the 1-0 lead.
It was the Terriers’ first even-strength goal in three games, with their last coming in a 3-0 win against Merrimack on Nov. 4. The goal was just their eighth five-on-five goal in eight games this season.
“They were all excited [about scoring an even-strength goal] on the bench,” Parker said, chuckling. “But we didn’t get any more and therein lies the problem: One goal — whether it’s a power play or even strength — is not enough.”
Anyone who thought that the floodgates would open was left high and dry. It took the better part of the period for another scoring chance to arrive, but UNH capitalized when the time came at 15:37.
In their first true lapse of the night, BU made an untimely line change, yielding a two-on-one break. Darren Haydar brought the puck in on the left wing, faked the pass and rang one off the post. The loose puck wound up behind the goalie in the crease, and senior defenseman Eric Lind swatted the puck home for his first goal of the season.
That made the score 1-1, with the total distance of the two scoring shots measuring about 5 feet.
In the final period, you could have blinked and missed the goal that gave the Wildcats their first lead of the night at 6:25. Left wing Jim Abbott picked up the behind the Terrier net and wheeled out across the goal line before backhanding a pass across the slot, which Colin Hemingway promptly deposited in the net with a one-time backhander.
The goal seemed to rouse the Terriers, who began to mount the pressure. A power play midway through the period produced some good chances, culminating in Carney plucking the puck out of the air before Jack Baker could get to it. Then John Sabo made a great move at 12:20 to set up a terrific chance, but he shot high after Carney slid, vacating the upper part of the net.
With the extra attacker on, BU controlled the puck in the UNH end. Pat Aufiero maneuvered into position for a decent chance with 21 seconds left but shot just wide.
“I thought at the end there they were throwing everything in our end, but the guys stayed composed,” UNH coach Dick Umile said. “Matt Carney stayed composed in the end. Any time you come to this arena and get win, it’s a great win.”
The Wildcats will put Conklin back between the pipes for a trip to Boston College Saturday night, while BU looks to change their luck against ECAC opponent Harvard on Tuesday evening.