WORCESTER, Mass. — For a long time, this NCAA tournament classic looked to be a defensive struggle destined for a 2-1 final in overtime.
Think again. After the teams stayed stuck on a 1-1 score for over 35 minutes, there was an old-fashioned Western shootout in the East Regional. When the dust settled — after Maine and Boston University combined for five goals in just over 13 minutes — the Black Bears came out on top, defeating the Terriers 4-3 in front of 11,888 at the Worcester Centrum Centre to advance to the Frozen Four in St. Paul.
“What a great game,” Maine interim coach Tim Whitehead said. “We just feel great right now. I’m very proud of the players. They’ve done a tremendous job this season, and they just weren’t going to be denied.”
Lucas Lawson scored two of the three goals in the final frame for the Black Bears, while Matt Yeats had 31 saves and now holds a 2-0-1 record against BU this season. His record against all other teams is just 4-7-2 in 2001-2002. In fact, the play of his netminding counterpart — fellow senior Mike Morrison –frequently overshadowed Yeats.
“It’s been a real rollercoaster ride this season,” said Yeats. “I came into this season thinking I was the number-one guy and trying to prove to the new coach that I was instead of focusing on my game, and that really hurt me.
“I don’t know what it is about BU; I just seem to have their number. I love playing against them because they throw the puck at the net all the time, and I’m always in the game.”
Colin Shields turned out to be another unlikely hero for the Black Bears. After missing Saturday’s game against Harvard when he became violently ill after taking medication for a tooth infection, no one knew how well he might play.
As it turned out, he outraced Terrier co-captain Chris Dyment on a 50-50 puck in the Terrier zone and buried it into the net. It was the eventual game-winner, and made it 4-2 at the time.
“It was a long weekend for me,” Shields said. “Yesterday I couldn’t even watch the game; I spent most of the day in bed. Even this morning I couldn’t even eat anything before the game — just a little snack. The whole game I felt pretty weak, and along the boards I wasn’t very strong.
“[Dyment] was a little slow going back for it, and I seemed to have enough fuel tank to get around and get body position on him.”
Shields laughed about overcoming his illness to make the play against Dyment.
“I think he smelled me coming,” Shields said.
Just as it looked like Maine had it sealed up, freshman David Klema got one back with 3:02 left, setting the stage for a dramatic finish after all.
“Mark Mullen got the puck in the slot, and I was going behind the net for a pass,” said Klema. “He took a shot, and the rebound came right on my stick behind the goal line. I shot it off the goalie’s pad, and it went right in the back of the net.”
The Terriers won two critical faceoffs in the last minute, only to have the center send the puck completely out of the offensive zone both times. It was a forehead-slapping conclusion for the Terrier fans in attendance.
“We didn’t want to lose the faceoffs clean,” Whitehead said sheepishly. “Oddly enough, we did, and they went out of their zone.”
“When it came down to it, we just weren’t as good as we had to be,” Terrier co-captain Mike Pandolfo said.
Klema and Sean Fields were the two brightest stars for the Terriers. Klema scored both of BU’s third-period goals, and Fields made 30 saves. Peppered with 28 shots in the first two periods, he stopped 27 of them, including some amazing bailouts for the Terriers in the first period.
“Unfortunately for us, a real typical Maine-BU game,” Terrier Coach Jack Parker said. “Real close, and they won. We beat them in overtime in November, then we haven’t been able to get by them the last three times we’ve played. Well-fought game, well-refereed game — the better team won. They go to St. Paul, and we go home.”
Just 1:10 into the game, Maine had a grade-A scoring bid when two Terriers tangled up in their own end, coughing the puck up to Todd Jackson. The freshman left wing broke in alone on Sean Fields, deked, and appeared to have the netminder beat, only to have Fields get a toe out to take away the net.
The Black Bears still took the lead at 3:47, when Peter Metcalf, retrieving the puck behind the Terrier goal line, set up Robert Liscak for a one-timer in front that Fields never saw.
After showing sluggishness early on the power play, the Terriers showed off some nifty one-touch passing to get into the Maine zone. The connection was Whitney to Collins to Pandolfo, whose shot went in and out of the net low on Yeats’ glove side. They reviewed the goal, but it stood to make the score 1-1 at 7:14.
Fields bailed out his defense with another big save on Chris Heisten two minutes later. Then the tension rose considerably when Terrier freshman Justin Maiser was called for a five-minute major and a game disqualification for spearing Maine defenseman Francis Nault.
Surprisingly, Maine failed to generate much offense through the critical penalty. But if the successful kill gave BU a temporary boost, the penalty still proved very costly to the Terriers.
“The loss of Maiser hurt us because we wanted to match the lines,” Parker said. “We had a specific way we wanted to play, and all of a sudden we couldn’t do that. Killing penalties that much early also gets your penalty killers a little legless, and I think that happened too.”
The second period was tighter, in more ways than one. There were far fewer scoring chances, and both teams looked clumsy at times with passes into teammates’ skates and iffy decisions.
Reminiscent of its game with BU nine days ago in the Hockey East semifinals, Maine capitalized on a penalty to break the tie early in the third period.
After an ineffectual showing for much of the game with the man advantage, the Black Bears scored when Licsak got the puck at the right point and slipped it down low to Lawson. Fields didn’t give him much net to shoot at, but he squeezed it in to make it 2-1 at 2:15.
The action picked up considerably at that point. BU failed to score on a power play, and it appeared that the Terriers’ hopes were waning. Then, halfway through the period, they got the game-tying goal when Klema took a Kenny Magowan pass and beat Yeats high.
The euphoria was short-lived, however, as Maine regained the lead 40 seconds later. Fields made an initial save by coming out to cut down the angle, but the rebound went free with a horde of players separating Lawson from the net. He backhanded a low seeing-eye shot that somehow missed all the ducks in the shooting galllery, giving Maine a 3-2 lead.
BU appeared to have enough time, and, with the bye, enough legs to tie it up. Instead, it set the stage for Shields to outskate Dyment before making it 4-2.
It was a tough loss for the Terriers, who finish their season with a record of 25-10-3. Curiously, that mark is almost identical to their 25-10-7 record of two years ago, when they also narrowly missed the Frozen Four with a quadruple-overtime loss to St. Lawrence.
However, Terrier fans will have to hope that this every-other-year pattern ends; last year, and three years ago, the team posted records of exactly 14-20-3.