BOSTON — As Boston University learned Thursday, New Hampshire goaltender Michael Ayers may be human, but he’s still an exceptional goaltender.
In a game dominated by the Terriers for two periods everywhere but on the scoreboard, Ayers saw his remarkable shutout streak against BU come to end after 272 minutes and 38 seconds of doughnuts. Nonetheless, Ayers stopped 31 of 34 shots as No. 7 New Hampshire pulled out an exciting 3-3 tie against BU in front of 2,738 at Walter Brown Arena. The Terriers trailed 2-0 and 3-2 but twice came back to knot it up.
David Van der Gulik earned No. 1-star honors with two goals for the Terriers, including the game-tying goal at 9:04 of the third period. Jekabs Redlihs set up the goal on a gorgeous pass, picking up the puck near the right-wing boards and threading the puck between the skates of Wildcat forward Justin Aikins to hit Van der Gulik for the tap-in at the far post.
After scoring just 11 points all season, the Wildcats’ fourth line of captain Patrick Foley, Mark Kolanos, and Tyler Scott chipped in four points tonight.
“I liked the way we played in the first period,” Wildcat coach Dick Umile said. “In the second period, I backed them off a little bit, probably wasn’t a very good move. They got the momentum going; they did a good job. You’ve got to give them credit; they outshot us pretty good in the second period. Then we came back in the third period and played a good period.
“We’re a team that usually generates shots, and they kept us down there for two periods. I’m not disappointed; we’ll take the point down here. I’m just disappointed with how we played in the second period.”
If Umile was relieved to come away with a point, Terrier coach Jack Parker regretted that his team didn’t get two — not only because the Terriers generally dominated, but also because it meant that the Terriers failed to seal the last playoff spot in the Hockey East playoffs.
“I was disappointed that we only got one, but I couldn’t be more happy with how hard we played and how smart we played,” Parker said. “Made a couple of turnovers that cost us, but we kept coming back and kept working. We had much the better chances. And we got a goal on Ayers — we got three goals on Ayers — so that was a big night for us.
“It was certainly an exciting game to watch; it was really wide open in the overtime for the two clubs. I loved how my team played tonight; I loved how they competed, and I loved how they came back.”
After a horrific show at home against Northeastern last Saturday, the Terriers came out strong, getting three or four scoring chances in the first nine minutes. Then their mettle was tested after surrendering a fluke goal at 9:12. Amidst a line change, Patrick Foley fired the puck into the Terrier end, and it caromed off the skate of BU defenseman Tom Morrow and fooled Sean Fields for an ugly goal on the Wildcats’ first shot of the game.
Just over two minutes later, UNH got their second shot and second goal. Mark Kolanos picked up the puck in the left-wing corner and brought it out to the faceoff circle before wristing one off of the bottom of Fields’ arm and in.
“They did a good job,” Umile said of his fourth line, featuring seniors Scott and Foley along with the sophomore Kolanos. “It’s always about seniors when you come to the end of the regular season and the playoffs; it’s nice to see seniors go out playing like that.”
Late in the period, BU got a big one back when Mike Lubesnick appeared to cough up the puck in the corner, teeing it up for a Van der Gulik shot that hit Aikins’ skate before beating Ayers for the first time in over four games against BU.
“I’m glad it happened, to be honest with you; I wanted to get it over with,” Ayers said about the end of his shutout streak against the Terriers. “I didn’t want them scoring on me, but I didn’t want the hype; I just wanted to play hockey.”
The Terriers outshot the Wildcats by a stunning 15-3 margin in the second, capitalizing with their first game-tying goal at 9:04. Gregg Johnson won an offensive-zone draw back to Dan Spang, and his slapshot got by Ayers.
“Just a deflection — it was going blocker side,” Ayers said. “Just one of those bad bounces you’ve got to deal with. It went glove side on me. Those things happen; it’s just frustrating at times.”
BU was exceptional on faceoffs after looking terrible in that department against Northeastern last weekend.
“It’s amazing,” Parker said. “McConnell didn’t lose a faceoff the full first period. Got two faceoff goals. Sometimes it’s concentration, and sometimes it’s focus, and you get in a groove, and you’re feeling pretty good and pretty quick. We did a great job not losing them in our end, and we did a great job of winning them in their end.”
UNH took another lead at 3:31 of the third, when Ryan Whitney made a poor pass coming out of zone, giving away the puck to Kolanos, who set up Aikins for a goal. That set the stage for Van der Gulik’s tying goal 11 minutes later.
“He’s a great player for us,” Parker said of Van der Gulik. “He was snake-bitten early on, and then he had a hip pointer, and then he had a back problem, so his whole first semester was kind of useless. But there’s no question in our mind that he’s one of our better players; he’s going to be a hell of a player.
“Zancanaro gave us a lot of energy tonight-worked really hard. We matched lines; we wanted to have Zancanaro and Van der Gulik play against 8 [Steve Saviano]. Van der Gulik had two goals tonight but he’s also one of our best defensive forwards, so it’s nice having him playing against Saviano.”
The overtime had several heart-stopping moments. Just 20 seconds in, Van der Gulik and Brad Zancanaro set up Ryan Whitney racing on the right wing, and Whitney’s shot glanced off of Ayers’ arm and trickled through the crease before going just wide. Aikins had a good bid for UNH at 2:15, and Ayers stopped a Spang blast with his shoulder at 3:30. In the waning seconds, Ayers was injured when Mark Mullen made a last-ditch drive to the net.
“I just jammed my thumb,” Ayers said afterwards, with the thumb in question stuck into a paper cup of ice water. “I reached out with my stick hand to prevent him from cutting across the top of the crease. My thumb just caught his foot and jammed it-stinging a little bit.”
BU (9-15-9; 5-13-5 Hockey East) is now three points up on Northeastern, which needs a sweep against Massachusetts and a BU loss or tie on Saturday to better the Terriers for the eighth playoff spot and a quarterfinal matchup against Boston College. UNH (18-11-6, 10-7-6) has clinched home ice but needs a win Saturday and a Husky sweep to pass Massachusetts for the No. 3 seed.