BOSTON — This weekend was a missed opportunity for Boston University.
Archrival Boston College played shorthanded in the home-and-home series, as leading scorer Ben Eaves was out with a knee injury along with forward David Spina (ankle). Patrick Eaves — arguably another of the Eagles’ top three players — had to leave tonight’s game before the first period was over after he blocked Kevin Schaeffer’s slapshot, suffering a bruised sternum.
Regardless of the key omissions in the lineup, the Eagles pulled out a satisfying 3-2 road victory before a sellout crowd of 3,806 at Walter Brown Arena. Goaltender Matti Kaltiainen — thought to be the Achilles Heel of this powerhouse BC team — silenced the critics once again, as he made a season-high 29 saves on 31 shots tonight, combining for 49 saves on 52 shots over the weekend to stake a claim for Hockey East Defensive Player of the Week.
J.D. Forrest, Stephen Gionta, and Ryan Murphy scored for the Eagles (16-3-3, 9-1-2 Hockey East), while David Van Der Gulik and Mark Mullen lit the lamp for the Terriers (6-8-6, 3-7-2), who outshot their archrivals, 31-25.
“Maybe if BC loses four or five more people, we can beat them,” said Terrier Coach Jack Parker, subdued after the discouraging loss. “Give them a lot of credit — they really battled tonight. We battled tonight; I like how our team played. We played hard; we got two goals: end of conversation.”
Well, not quite: The lack of goal scoring was not the only problem. After stalwart senior Sean Fields surrendered three goals in six minutes last night, Parker replaced him with Stephan Siwiec. Unfortunately, the sophomore didn’t fare much better, giving up two fairly soft goals.
“It has been a problem for us this year, no question about it,” Parker said of his team’s goaltending.
Meanwhile, Kaltianen played extremely well.
“Matti was incredible,” Eagle defenseman J.D. Forrest said. “We know he’s going to be there when we need him, and tonight he was. Last night he was. If it wasn’t for him, it’s a little different story this weekend. He’s been focused; you can tell in practice. He’s been a factor for us, big time.”
“I thought Matti’s play was the impetus of the sweep for the weekend; he was terrific,” Eagle Coach Jerry York added. “As he got going, he became stronger and stronger.”
York also was very justifiably proud of the grit that his team showed, as best exemplified by Patrick Eaves blocking the power-play slapshot.
“What sums up the game to me is what the chaplain told me,” York said. “When Patrick was leaving the ice — he got hit in the chest area here, and it was a pretty good gash there — he said, ‘Father, that to me was better than any hat trick I could have scored to go down and block a shot like that.’ That’s kind of the grit that we displayed during the course of the winter but especially this weekend. That’s part of becoming a great team, doing all the small things.”
In great contrast to the deer-in-headlights style that characterized the Terriers’ 5-2 loss to the Eagles back in December, BU came out hitting hard and playing well tonight. In particular, Terrier freshmen Kenny Roche was throwing his weight around and was a force to be reckoned with all night — despite any evidence of this on the scoresheet.
However, BC pounced on their first power-play opportunity of the night, requiring just 17 seconds of man-advantage time to take the lead at 8:46. Andrew Alberts teed one up for Patrick Eaves at left point, but Siwiec stopped the shot with a solid left pad save. However, J.D. Forrest smelled the rebound.
“We’ve been working on this on the power play,” Forrest said. “Patty walked it up, took a bomb, and whenever I see him crawling up I just got to the net and try to look for a rebound. It went right on my stick, and I had a wide-open net — just smacked it in.”
The Terriers enjoyed several power plays — five on three, five on four, four on three — in the first, and Kevin Schaeffer had three good chances, only to be thwarted by Kaltianen and the Patrick Eaves block. With 15 seconds left in the period, Ryan Shannon made a great pass to spring teammate Chris Collins for a breakaway, but Siwiec kept it 1-0 for the moment.
The Terriers continued to have the edge in scoring opportunities early in the second, but Stephen Gionta ultimately gave the Eagles a 2-0 lead at 7:30. Skating in on the right wing, Gionta threw the puck on net from the farthest side of the right-wing faceoff circle, but Siwiec didn’t have the post sealed off, and the puck banked off of his skate and in for a demoralizing goal.
Less than a minute later, Roche showed great patience skating through the slot before putting one past Kaltiainen, but referee Tim Benedetto decisively waved off the goal because Mark Mullen had just skated through the crease behind Kaltiainen, apparently part of the reason the goalie was out of position for Roche’s shot.
Siwiec did make a great save when Gionta found himself all alone with the BU netminder at the 13-minute mark, and Roche again looked strong on a subsequent power play. Finally, the Terriers scored at 16:30 on a power play. Brian McConnell drove to the net before making a nice drop pass to Ryan Whitney at the point. Whitney’s slapshot was blocked, but Van Der Gulik buried the rebound while Kaltiainen searched for the puck.
In the third period, Frantisek Skladany came close to tying it at the three-minute mark, but Kaltiainen made a nice arm save to keep the Eagles out of harm’s way. For an encore, he stopped Bryan Miller on the doorstep at 4:20 after Van der Gulik set him up from behind the net.
At 7:15, Ryan Murphy notched the eventual game-winner on another goal that Siwiec would have liked to have back. Murphy picked up the puck behind the goal line and managed it to stick between the goalie’s feet, where it pinballed around before sneaking through.
The Terriers made it interesting with another goal at 13:40, when David Klema nudged the rebound of another Schaeffer shot to Mullen bearing down in the slot. After that, the only truly close call for either team came at 14:30, when BC hit a crossbar.
“It’s a matter of making sure that the puck goes over the goal line, and we didn’t do that tonight,” Parker said. “I cannot fault my team for trying — I thought we played hard, kept after it, and played with a lot of zip right to the end and kept fighting, but it’s something we’ve got to overcome.”
“I think BU very well last night in the first period, had us back on our heels,” York said. [Tonight] they extended it to 60 minutes; I thought they were very good throughout the course of the game. It was a battle. Don’t let the records fool you — these are two very good teams.”
The Terriers host Maine for a pair of games next weekend, while the Eagles make up their snowed-out game at Providence on Tuesday before seeking revenge at Northeastern on Friday.