BOSTON — With the final playoff home ice berth hanging in the balance, Providence and Boston University battled to a 3-3 tie. As a result, the Friars emerged with three of four points in the weekend’s home-and-home series and five of six for the season.
The result fixes the two rivals in fourth and fifth place in Hockey East, meaning that they will face each other in the playoff quarterfinals for the third straight season and fourth in five years.
“Great!” said PC coach Paul Pooley with a laugh when apprised of the looming matchup. “It’ll be another battle. Both teams are playing well right now.”
What remains to be decided is who will earn home ice for the series. Both clubs have 25 points, but BU (20-11-3, 12-9-1 HEA) holds a game in hand. The remaining contests, however, give the advantage to Providence (18-12-3, 11-9-3 HEA). It hosts last-place Massachusetts-Lowell in its lone remaining game and wins the tiebreaker because of the head-to-head results.
Meanwhile, BU travels to third-ranked Maine for a two-game set. If PC defeats Lowell, the Terriers must take at least three of four points at Orono to host the quarterfinal.
The tie extends Providence’s undefeated streak in February, during which it is 5-0-2, and maintains its enviable 4-1-3 record in overtime. Even more impressively, the Friars’ last five games have all come against Top 10 teams and yet they have still posted a 3-0-2 record.
Until the previous night’s loss to the Friars, BU had similarly posted an unblemished record (5-0) for the month, but is now 0-3-3 in OT.
For the third time this year, the Terriers not only went into overtime with the Friars, but also outshot them only to be foiled by goaltender Nolan Schaefer.
The 37-25 margin on this evening paled in comparison to the 44-22 and 30-16 advantages in previous losses, but still left BU coach Jack Parker frustrated with the tie and the lack of any scoring while even strength.
“Obviously outshooting Providence doesn’t get wins [for] us,” he said. “We came up with one point in three games. Give them credit. They played hard in front of their net. We just couldn’t put the puck by the kid [Schaefer].
“We couldn’t make the plays we needed. The shot chart is pretty demoralizing when [it shows] that many opportunities and grade A [chances].”
Mark Mullen was the one Terrier who made the most of his opportunities, scoring once on the power play and also shorthanded for his first career two-goal game. He earned first star honors and now leads Hockey East with three shorthanded goals.
The Terriers lost captain Freddy Meyer indefinitely with a separated shoulder. His return is unknown.
“We’ll take a point tonight,” said Pooley. “Going into the second night [of a weekend series] and you’re in their building, the mentality is that they want to get a split [with a win] and we just want to make smart decisions and wait for our opportunity.”
Mike Robinson and Torry Gajda did exactly that to open the scoring with a faceoff goal six minutes into the game. Robinson neutralized his counterpart on the draw while Gajda broke in from the outside hashmark, outmuscled his man for the puck and put his shot past Sean Fields.
At 15:54, Mullen evened the game on the Terriers’ second power play, taking a feed in the slot from Frantisek Skladany and shooting through a Brian McConnell screen.
Specialty teams dominated a second period in which referee Tim Benedetto assessed seven non-matching penalties. BU would outshoot the Friars, 16-9, but still fall behind on the scoreboard.
Mullen gave BU a painfully brief burst of momentum, picking off a sloppy pass and scoring on the resulting breakaway while shorthanded four-on-three. On the same power play just 22 seconds later, however, Jon DiSalvatore tipped a Devin Rask shot past Fields to once again deadlock the game.
The Friars grabbed a 3-2 lead at 10:44 when Chris Chaput put a shot on net from the right boards. Mike Lucci got a stick on it after which it caromed in off BU center David Klema’s skate.
McConnell had a great opportunity to even the score once again at the 16-minute mark on a shorthanded breakaway sprung by a John Cronin pass, but Nolan Schaefer stymied him.
The missed opportunity looked to be a key turning point when BU picked up another penalty and faced a 24-second five-on-three disadvantage. However, Mullen continued his exceptional evening, leading the potentially pivotal penalty kill.
It took the Terriers until the midway point of the third period to forge yet another tie in the see-saw contest. On the power play, the Terriers moved the puck around until Ryan Whitney from the point fed Skladany down near the goal line and he put it in front to McConnell who redirected it in.
BU spent much of the overtime in the Providence end, generating all three shots of the extra session, but could not master Schaefer.