CHESTNUT HILL, Mass. — Less than a week ago, Boston University was two-and-a-half minutes away from hitting the golf course. Now, they’re 60 minutes away from the Hockey East final four.
Just five days after BU’s season was on life support until David van der Gulik’s goal over New Hampshire with 2:30 remaining in overtime in a must-win game, the Terriers used a quick start against No. 3 Boston College, jumping out to a 3-0 lead and hanging on behind 28 saves by goaltender Sean Fields as the eighth-seeded Terriers defeated number one seed and their number one rival BC Eagles, 3-2, in front of 3,250 at BC’s Conte Forum.
The victory gives BU a 1-0 lead in the best-of-three quarterfinal series, the winner advancing to next weekend’s semifinals at the FleetCenter. The teams meet again on Friday night with an 8:00 start. If necessary, game three will be a 7:00 start once again.
Combined with last weekend’s win over UNH, BU has put together back-to-back wins for the first time this season, and hopes to make it three in a row in Friday night’s game two.
“It’s nice to come now. Better late than never,” said BU captain Mark Mullen when asked about the clubs first winning streak of the year. “I think how close it was to not being in the playoffs at all helped [us psychologically].”
The win was the first for the Terriers in five tries this year against BC. The last BU over the Eagles, ironically enough, came in last year’s Hockey East tournament, a 6-5 double overtime win in the semifinals.
The victory was keyed by two aspects of the Terriers game: strong goaltending by Fields and a solid penalty kill against a potent BC power play. According to Mullen, the two are closely related.
“To have a good penalty kill, you have to have good goaltending,” said Mullen about BU’s PK unit that killed off all seven BC power plays including a two-minute five-on-three to preserve a 2-0 BU lead in the opening period. “On the five-on-three, Fields made some big saves for us. He stood on his head.”
Strong playoff goaltending for Fields, though, should come as little surprise. One season ago he was named the Hockey East tournament MVP despite the fact that his Terriers lost the championship game, 1-0 in overtime, to UNH. He repeated that feat this year in the Beanpot, becoming the first non-winner to take home the MVP trophy for his remarkable performance in a 2-1 overtime loss to the Eagles.
For BC, Thursday was the first time it had the ability dress their full complement of players for the since December 5. Even so, captain Ben Eaves, who played a full game last Saturday night, was able to skate only limited power-play shifts and in an extra-attacker role for BC after aggravating his injured knee against Maine.
“After the Maine game his knee really got sore,” said Eagles coach Jerry York of his injured captain. “In practice it became evident to us that he could not take a regular shift.”
The game opened with truly the only offensive spark that the Terriers showed all night. The six first-period shots that BU put on BC goaltender Matti Kaltiainen were more than half of what they finished with (10) in the game, making the fact that the Terriers scored twice in the frame more magnified.
BU opened the scoring on the power play. Parked in the high slot, Brian McConnell deflected a Jekabs Redlihs shot at 8:57 to grab the Terriers an early 1-0 lead. The vocal crowd making the short subway ride from BU came to life with the goal, which seemed to help BU put pressure on BC. The Terriers reaped dividends minutes later.
At 11:11, Brad Zancanaro fired a bad-angle shot that beat Kaltiainen short side, seemingly catching the netminder trying to cheat off the post anticipating a pass.
The goal seemed to awaken the BC offense, which would generate all of the remaining shots in the period and draw a total of five power plays in the frame. That’s when the BU penalty kill stepped up in full force, particularly when killing a two-minute five-on-three when van der Gulik was whistled for knocking the net off on top of referee Scott Hansen calling a delayed penalty on Fields for roughing.
Even thought his club had success on the PK, BU head coach Jack Parker was upset with the penalties that were called, or maybe even not called, and expressed his ire to Hansen between periods.
“I said to [Hansen] that I was real concerned about [BC players] diving,” said Parker, who got the best birthday present with Thursday’s win on the day he turns 59. “There’s a point of emphasis not to let people dive and I thought there was a dive involved [in one of BU's penalties].”
Talking to Hansen may have worked as the second period was penalty-free for the Terriers. For the most part, though, it was also offense-free, generating only two shots.
Still, after BU got its first shot at 15:43, its second bid went in the net just 34 seconds later. After Kenny Roche made a move to the net, a bouncing puck returned to the rookie forward’s stick, this time with the net wide open. An off-balanced Roche maintained just enough composure to poke the puck home for the 3-0 lead.
Taking that lead into the third, BU focused on defense, sitting back in a quasi-trap, though doing it to a point that almost cost them.
After Fields turned the puck over below the goal line, a goal by BC’s Andrew Alberts at 5:40 ignited the BC crowd. And with Kaltiainen pulled for an extra attacker, Ben Eaves fired home a rebound with 39.9 seconds remaining to make things more than interesting.
The Eagles continued to press after BU called timeout, and both Ben Eaves and Tony Voce got quality looks at the net in the closing seconds. But Fields standing strong combined with Zancanaro winning the game’s final three faceoffs allowed BU to ultimately clear the puck in the closing seconds to put the Terriers one win away from the Fleet.
If the Terriers can indeed close out the series, it will be just the third time in league history that the top seed did not advance past the quarterfinals. Ironically, both BC and BU account for the other two, with BC
losing a single-game playoff in eighth-seeded Northeastern in 1991 and BU falling in 1998, two-games-to-one, to eighth seeded Merrimack. Never has an eight seed swept a best-of-three series.
Still it’s a long way to the finish line for BU. Though happy to be up, 1-0, in the series, Parker’s nerves may already be feeling it.
“Today I’m one year away from turning 60,” said Parker. “After tonight, I feel like I’m one year away from turning 90.”