BOSTON — It was a game of one-armed bandits.
The term, usually referring to slot machines, applied on this evening to a flashy one-armed goal by John Laliberte and a gritty return to action in the second period by referee Conrad Hache, who couldn’t lift his right arm after sustaining a shoulder injury in the first.
The evening ended with a Boston University 2-0 win over Providence that ended the Friars’ season while sending the Terriers on to a Hockey East semifinal matchup with New Hampshire on Friday at 8:00 p.m.
Laliberte missed the first game of the series with the flu and had still been under the weather in the second. He had his legs back on this night, however, as well as the only arm he needed for the game-winner. Spinning in front while fighting off defender Dinos Stamoulis, Laliberte one-armed his shot past Tyler Sims.
There was also a two-armed bandit named John Curry, who posted back-to-back shutouts for the first time in BU playoff history. He extended his streak of not being scored upon to 168:01 dating back to the first period of the series’ first game.
“When you have a shutout streak going over more than one game, nine times out of 10 it has to do with how well the team is playing in front of you,” Curry said. “Not just the defense. The defense played great, but even the forwards were playing their position and [had] a lot of big blocked shots.
“That’s the way it’s been the whole series. If you want to show me how many unbelievable saves I had to make, there aren’t any. … I don’t even remember one.”
The win completed a comeback in the series for Boston University (23-12-4) after dropping the first game. In games two and three, the Terriers blanked Providence by identical 2-0 scores.
“The best part of our game tonight was our quickness and our ability to turn the puck back up the ice and not let them get into trapping situations,” BU coach Jack Parker said. “And obviously we got the first goal of the game, which helps so that they’re not trying to protect a lead.
“We’re happy to be going on. I was pretty sure after last night’s win that we were going to be in the NCAA tournament, but this absolutely solidifies it. So we’re happy to be going to Worcester [as host of the East Regional] and now we battle with UNH again.”
For Providence (12-21-4), it was the end of the season. The Friars became the first Hockey East seven seed to win a quarterfinal game, but they couldn’t finish BU off after winning the series opener.
“Two things hurt us,” PC coach Paul Pooley said. “Penalties — [seven to BU's two] — hurt us all year and an inability to put the puck in the net when we need to. But the kids fought hard and I was proud of their effort. It was just disappointing.”
The game opened with the two teams playing close to the vest. After six minutes, only two shots had been recorded, both by Providence. One of those, however, was a stellar opportunity arising out of a long pass from Jon Rheault to Colin McDonald, but Curry came out of the net to make the stop.
The period then became dominated by Friar penalties and Laliberte’s even-strength goal. The Terriers gained little off their first power play, generating only a single nondescript shot, other than drawing a second penalty to give them a brief five-on-three.
That 14-second two-man advantage bore no fruit, but yet another whistle on PC gave BU another five-on-three, this one lasting for 1:14. Chris Bourque and Bryan Miller traded one-timers, but the game remained scoreless.
Scoreless, that is, until John Laliberte turned his one-armed bandit trick while back at even strength.
BU returned to the power play at 15:37, but once again couldn’t capitalize.
In the closing seconds of the period, Ken Roche and Brian McConnell broke in two-on-one. Sims stopped Roche’s shot, but in the process Providence picked up its fifth penalty and would start the second period with 1:45 to kill.
Hache, who had left the game midway through the first period with a severely bruised shoulder resulting from a collision with a Providence player, returned at the start of the second.
BU failed to score on its power play to open the stanza, but finally broke through at 10:33, just 16 seconds into PC’s sixth penalty. McConnell, who had led the Terriers’ physical play, spun along the right goal line and fed across the goalmouth to Bryan Ewing on the far post, where he stuffed it into the open side.
With goal scoring in the series in short supply, the Friars desperately needed to get one back. They finally went on the power play at 14:30, bringing a sarcastic cheer from their fans who were frustrated at the 6-0 disparity in man advantages.
The opportunity became even better when Curry lost his stick and had to make multiple saves with only David Van der Gulik’s stick. The forward not only gave up his stick to help Curry, but even lost a glove at the end of the extended stretch as he attempted to sweep the puck out of the zone. However, Brad Zancanaro finally cleared the puck to a rousing cheer.
Providence’s best chance in the third came when captain Jeff Mason hit the post on a shot from the point eight minutes in, but that proved to be the closest the Friars would come to making it a one-goal game.
It almost became a 3-0 BU lead at 11:31 when BU was initially awarded what would have been the back-breaker. Peter MacArthur’s forecheck on the penalty kill forced an ill-advised cross-ice pass in the defensive zone that Bourque picked off. Barreling in on Sims, Bourque was stopped, but continued into the net, taking the goaltender with him. Hache initially signaled a goal when MacArthur put the puck into the crowded net, but the officials convened and after a long discussion disallowed the goal.
There would be two more excellent chances by BU to make it a more comfortable margin, both with Sims out of the PC nets, but Mason made saves each time.
With 1:41 remaining, Roche carried the puck through neutral ice and into the slot only to be stymied on his shot by a sliding leg save by the defenseman. With only 20 seconds remaining, Mason reprised his effort, this time stopping Ryan Monaghan.