BOSTON — After the final buzzer sounded and the teams met to exchange handshakes, Boston University public address announcer Jim Prior had one last message for the Spring Break-depleted crowd of 3,214 at Agganis Arena.
“Happy Birthday, Jack Parker.”
For the first time in Hockey East history, the seventh seed in the quarterfinals won a game. Tyler Sims stopped 51 of 52 BU shots as Providence upset the second-seeded Terriers 4-1 in Game 1 of this best-of-3 series. Chris Chaput and Jon Rheault each scored a pair of goals for the Friars, including an empty-netter apiece.
It was an odd game in many ways. Although BU outshot Providence 52-20, Sims was not called upon to make all that many grade-’A’ saves. The game also featured amazingly laissez-faire officiating, as referee Scott Hansen ignored several penalties by both teams calling just 12 minutes of sin-bin downtime.
On top of the small crowd, another oddity was the role that illness played in the game: Terrier first-line right wing John Laliberte missed the game with the flu, and his linemate David Van der Gulik was throwing up shortly after the loss. Likewise, Chris Bourque reportedly felt ill for much of the game.
“For starters, that wasn’t the way we wanted to play the first game of the series, and it certainly wasn’t the way we wanted to play the first period, giving up two goals on three shots,” said Terrier coach Jack Parker, who turned 60 today. “Nothing to do with John Curry, gave them a three-on-one and a breakaway. Two very bad reads by a couple of individuals: You make mistakes like that; you pay for them.
“And then we made it look almost good. If you look at the stats, geez, we got 52 shots, territorial advantage and this and that, but in general we weren’t quite as thorough as we need to be. Even after we gave up the two goals, we didn’t have a sense of urgency. We didn’t get to as many rebounds as we should have. We threw the puck away at times when we didn’t have to. I don’t think we played a bad game, but we hurt ourselves by playing too casual at times. I wasn’t real pleased with the overall effort.”
The result was gratifying for Providence coach Paul Pooley. “Scoring first and getting the first two goals was big,” Pooley said. “Obviously, Tyler made some saves when he needed to. We bent and didn’t break, and we’ll take the road win.”
Despite setting a Hockey East playoff record for most saves by a freshman goalie, Sims acknowledged that his total was somewhat deceiving. “We did a great job backchecking; there weren’t a lot of two-on-ones or three-on-twos,” Sims said. “It was a great team effort tonight.”
“They let you have the puck outside; they pack it in at center ice,” Parker said regarding the Friars’ defensive strategy. “You’re not going to get any initial rush plays because there’s four guys waiting for you on their side of the red line. So there’s not a lot of chances to get odd-man rushes or even two-on-twos. The play has got to be can you own them down low, and when you do they pack it in pretty good, and they got great goaltending.”
Sims didn’t look like a goalie on his way to a record-setting performance at the six-minute mark of the game. Terrier blueliner Jekabs Redlihs threw the puck on net from just inside the red line, and it got through Sims’ pads but trickled to a halt about eight inches from the goal line.
“I’m a freshman coming in; I’m nervous playing at BU in the playoffs,” Sims said. “It’s an unbelievable situation to be put into. I thought I made a good butterfly; I’ve made it a million times in my career. It just slipped by me a little bit, but I made the save and that’s all that counts.”
After that seemingly ominous moment, the Friars startled everyone with a goal just 35 seconds later. On a three-on-one rush, Torry Gajda broke in on the right wing and crossed a last-second pass to Chaput, crashing the far post for the tap-in.
“We did a good job on the wall,” Pooley said. “We did a couple of warmup drills this week that we haven’t done all year, just to win the board battles. I think the first goal was just a chip off the wall two-on-one goal.”
A couple of minutes after Bourque nearly tipped in a Sean Sullivan shot, Providence made it 2-0 on another pretty goal at 10:51. It was an amazing play: Freshman Marc Bastarache carried the puck over his own blue line and looped a shoulder-high pass to fellow frosh Jon Rheault breaking over the Terrier blue line. Rheault gloved it down to his stick then skated in for a breakaway, beating John Burry with a high glove-side shot. Incredibly, it was Bastarache’s first collegiate point.
“It was a down and out pass,” Pooley said. “It reminded me of the pass where Clayton Beddoes at Lake Superior beat Harvard in overtime. Down and out pass, grabs it, puts it down, and goes in for the goal. Bass didn’t play a ton tonight, but that’s how you win games. He had six or seven shifts, and he got an assist on one.”
BU had a few nominal scoring chances throughout the rest of the period, including a couple by Bryan “Boomer” Ewing, but despite outshooting the visitors 15-5, emerged down by two goals.
The Terriers had a few other decent chances through the first half of period two, and the cumulative shots were 25-5 as of 8:52. But Providence’s fourth line began turning the tide halfway through the period, and the Friars outshot the No. 2 seed by a 9-7 margin over the last 11 minutes, even dominating territorially on a rare power play.
One minute into the third period, Terrier senior Bryan Miller fired a great pass to set up captain Brian McConnell for a breakaway, only to have defenseman Eric Lundberg make a terrific effort — diving to poke the puck away — to deny what would have been the best chance of the game to that point.
“The difference between BU and other teams is how active their defensemen are,” Pooley said. “Miller’s like a fourth forward out there. They’re very, very hard to contain and control. In the third, our forecheck was ineffective, and they were just wheeling up ice.”
The Terriers proceeded to outshoot the Friars 20-5 for the period, including six shots by Ewing alone. Sims misplayed a puck with three minutes left, and Brad Zancanaro almost knocked it home.
Curry was pulled with two full minutes left, and Rheault responded with an empty-netter within about 10 seconds. BU avoided the shutout when Ryan Monaghan tipped in Dan Spang’s bad-angle shot with 1:07 remaining, but Chaput sealed it with a second empty-netter in last ten seconds.
On top of the loss for BU (21-12-4), the wave of flu will be another obstacle to overcome this weekend. “I think we’ve got real problems there. I don’t think Van der Gulik will play because he was throwing up right after the game. Bourque said he felt sick during the game, so we may get some reports. In all probability, Laliberte may be back. We may lose some other guys.”
On Saturday night, Providence (12-19-4) will attempt to make history as the first seventh seed to advance to the semifinals.