ORONO, Me. — With two goals in a “three”-second span late in the third period against No. 5 Maine, Boston University went from six feet under to breathing on life support in the Hockey East race. The goals turned a 2-1 deficit to a 3-2 lead with less than three minutes to play in the game. An empty-net goal with 30 seconds remaining accounted for the 4-2 final score.
A out-of-town score of Providence 3, Massachusetts-Lowell 1 meant the Terriers would need to capture three points in two games with Maine on the weekend in order to secure home ice for the Hockey East playoffs, which begin next week. But Maine led 2-1 at the 17 minute mark of the third period, and if that score held up, BU would be travelling to Providence on Thursday.
“In reality, there was nothing going on for us, the game was very much in control by Maine,” said Jack Parker, Boston University head coach. “Until [Ryan] Whitney makes an unbelievable pass to send [Frantisek] Skladany in, and then all hell breaks loose and we win the game.”
The sentiment was echoed by Maine coach Tim Whitehead. “It was just a great pass by Whitney to send Skladany on the breakaway. He’s a hell of a player, to keep his head up and make that pass.”
That outlet pass by Whitney led to a breakaway goal by Skladany that tied the game at two at 17:39, and just seconds later defenseman John Cronin emerged from a pile-up in front with the go-ahead goal that would prove to be the game-winner. After Skladany’s goal, the clock didn’t immediately start during game play, and while approximately 20 seconds of real time elapsed, the clock read just three seconds between goals.
“[Kenny Magowan] took his guy wide, and he saw me half going toward the net, so he threw the puck out there,” said Cronin, the game’s first star. “I got it on the second swing.”
The Maine lead itself was surprising, as Boston University spent the majority of the game with the lead. Despite dominating the majority of the game territorially and with shot attempts, Maine couldn’t solve BU goaltender Sean Fields, who finished the night with 28 saves and received the number two star of the game.
But two quick Maine goals in the first half of the third period erased first Fields’ shutout attempt, then the Terrier lead. For the first, Maine defenseman Tom Reimann received a pass from Colin Shields and slid the puck across ice to Fields’ far side to get the equalizer at 6:16.
In the second goal, freshman forward and fourth-liner John Ronan netted just his second goal of the season when he slammed home the rebound of a Ben Murphy shot. With roughly ten minutes to go and the momentum entirely on Maine’s side, it looked like Ronan might get his second game-winning goal in as many games. Ronan’s first goal of the season proved to be the difference in last Saturday’s 4-0 win at Massachusetts.
This goaltenders’ duel featured two outstanding performances, by Maine’s Frank Doyle (16 saves) and Boston University’s Sean Fields (28). In particular, Fields made some dramatic saves in the early going, keeping the Terriers’ hopes alive.
“Sean Fields won the game for us by stemming the tide in the first period,” said Parker. “They were all over us in the first 12 minutes of the first period.”
“It wouldn’t have been a game if it wasn’t for Sean in the first period,” agreed Cronin. “He gave us a chance to get our legs, and get our heads in the game.”
With a jump in their step from the game’s opening minutes, the Black Bears built off an early BU penalty, a hit after the whistle coming from David VanderGulik, to provide consistent pressure throughout the first period, dominating territorially with 25 attempts to BU’s nine. Among many were a blistering wrister off the stick of Robert Liscak and a Colin Shields chance directly in front of the net before he was tied up by a BU defender.
BU, on the other hand, had almost all of its seven shots during two lone flurries, not getting its first shot until over 12 minutes into the game.
Maine saw its worst fears realized, however, when the Terriers scored first at 18:26 despite the one-sided play in the other direction. With Brian Collins taking a powerful shot from the left faceoff circle, Doyle made the initial save but couldn’t control the rebound, as a sweeping VanderGulik picked up the loose puck and slipped it into the net for the late first period lead.
The second period nearly followed the same script as the first. Maine added another 25 attempts, yet couldn’t score as Fields made save after save, none better than when he stoned Martin Kariya on a breakaway early in the period. The Black Bears didn’t dominate the game quite as much as the first period, but still carried the majority of play.
And BU almost scored again in the waning moments of the period off two excellent chances, one when Doyle made an acrobatic save on Mark Mullen, who was all alone in front of the net with about four minutes to play, and shortly after that when VanderGulik and Matt Radoslovich conspired for a shorthanded bid that Doyle smothered.
“If we play like we did tonight consistently, I think we’ll do fine,” said Whitehead, whose team is just 3-5-2 in its last 10 games. “We didn’t win this game, but we played well, and that’s the important thing. We’ve had tough losses before. We’ll sleep on it, watch the video,” said Whitehead. “Clean the slate, so to speak. And drop the puck again.”
Maine (23-7-5) and Boston University (21-11-3) will both conclude regular-season play Saturday in the follow-up to Friday’s game. The following weekend, the Terriers will play Providence in the first round of the Hockey East playoffs, while Maine will host either Massachusetts or Merrimack.