BOSTON — While the rest of New England basked in the glow of the Patriots advancing to the Super Bowl, New Hampshire fans savored the completion of a weekend sweep over Boston University.
Unlike Friday’s night’s dominating 6-1 win at the Whittemore Center, Sunday’s see-saw contest remained deadlocked until a Josh Prudden breakaway goal at 17:01 provided the game-winner in a 5-3 win. Defenseman Garrett Stafford made a terrific pass through center ice to spring the junior for his second goal of the evening.
“Right now, [Prudden] is playing as well as anybody for us,” said UNH coach Dick Umile. “He’s real strong on the puck and he made a great move fighting off the backchecker to make the move to put it in the net. He’s playing tremendous.”
With BU doing an excellent job of controlling the country’s top scorer, Darren Haydar, until an empty-netter with one second remaining, Prudden and freshman Ed Caron picked up the scoring slack with two goals apiece.
Goaltender Michael Ayers made numerous big saves in crunch time, including one on Pat Aufiero with 29 seconds remaining.
“I didn’t see it,” said Umile with a grin. “I’ve got the worst seat in the house. At that point, I think I was just closing my eyes and waiting to see if the cheers came or what.
“[But] the kid is playing great. We’ve got all the confidence in the world in him.”
Combined with a 1-1 tie earlier in the season at Walter Brown Arena, the UNH weekend sweep gives the Wildcats five-of-six points on the season series. New Hampshire (19-4-2, 11-2-2 HEA) now leads Hockey East by four points over Maine, although the Black Bears hold one game in hand.
“We obviously had a fabulous weekend beating BU two games in the weekend,” said Umile. “That’s a great weekend, especially here. We’re excited to get four points.”
Boston University (14-7-2, 8-5-2 HEA) remains in third place in Hockey East after the loss, one point ahead of UMass-Lowell. Although the Terriers played well through much of the first two periods, they surrendered their 3-2 lead early in the third and never led again.
“[UNH] had five breakaway goals against us this weekend, including the winning goal,” said BU coach Jack Parker. “That’s pretty stupid hockey….
“We played real well through the third period then we got unbelievably jumpy…. The lack of poise through center ice with the puck was appalling.
“A lot of that has to do with how good UNH is. They took five out of a possible six points against us this year. There’s no question who the best team in the league is as far as we’re concerned. They looked pretty sharp to me.”
New Hampshire grabbed the first-period lead at 5:49 on a Prudden power-play goal. Tyson Teplitsky fired a shot from the point that was blocked, but Steve Saviano got the loose puck and slid it back to the defenseman. BU goaltender Sean Fields stopped Teplitsky’s next salvo, but Prudden put the rebound into the open side of the net.
BU didn’t respond until the final minute of the period, but netted two in the span of 40 seconds. The first came at 19:10 and not without some controversy. Frantisek Skladany shot and Gregg Johnson crashed the net hard into the crease. The puck appeared to go off him and went either an inch over the line or just barely short of that before goaltender Ayers pulled it back. Referee John Gravellese, standing behind the net, initially seemed disinclined to signal the goal, but as the goal light belatedly came on behind him and BU players argued for the call, Gravellese gave the signal and the game was tied.
Freddy Meyer gave the Terriers a 2-1 lead 40 seconds later when he took a perfect pass from Mike Pandolfo into the slot and beat Ayers five hole.
UNH drew back even at 2:44 of the second period on a similarly pretty pass by Justin Aikins to send Ed Caron in on a breakaway. The 6-3, 220-pound giant made a finesse deke that a 5-8, 160-pounder would have been proud of to beat Fields and make it a 2-2 game.
The deadlock lasted until the 7:36 mark when John Sabo put in a loose puck from the right side of the net.
Both sides then had their chances, the best of which were a Skladany breakaway for BU and a great Stafford pass to Colin Hemingway on the far post. The two goaltenders, however, made the big stops to keep it a 3-2 game going into the third period.
Caron evened the game at 2:08 of the third on a pure power forward play, bodying Bryan Miller off the play, picking up the puck behind the BU net and beating Fields five hole on the wraparound.
The stage was then set for Prudden’s heroics, although not without Ayers first making tough saves on Pandolfo, Skladany and Magowan between UNH’s tying goal and the game-winner.
Both teams go on the road for the next two games. BU makes the short trip to North Andover for Wednesday and Friday games against Merrimack prior to the Beanpot. New Hampshire travels to Maine to take on the second-place Black Bears.