BOSTON — The clock struck 12 Friday night — literally — on Boston University’s hopes of winning the Hockey East tournament for the first time since 1997.
With the second semifinal ending at midnight due to the record length of the earlier game, New Hampshire’s special teams delivered in a big way. Scoring three power-play goals and a shorthanded goal — including three goals in a span of just three minutes, 36 seconds in the second period — the Wildcats took what was expected to be a close game and won it decisively, 5-2.
In front of a sellout crowd of 17,565 at the FleetCenter, Wildcat second-liner Daniel Winnik scored two goals and an assist while first-line centerman Preston Callander potted a pair of goals as well. Peter MacArthur and Brian McConnell scored for the Terriers in a losing effort.
“That was a sad performance by the Boston University hockey team,” Terriers coach Jack Parker said. “It was beyond belief how poorly we played in every phase of the game. We looked inept on the power-play rush, inept on our forecheck. We looked slow, back on our heels. It was just unbearable to watch.
“It was as bad a performance as we’ve had since the Lefty McFadden Tournament [when BU lost to Miami and Michigan in Dayton, Ohio] in the beginning of the year. We looked like we didn’t know what we were doing. … The entire first two periods were like we were skating in sand and were afraid to make a play. Couple that with the fact that UNH played an extremely good hockey game and made some good plays — but they didn’t have to come at us too hard.”
UNH coach Dick Umile’s mood was obviously from the sunnier side of the street. “I was real pleased with how we played tonight; we played as well tonight as we have all season,” Umile said. “Although we got going late [due to the earlier overtime game], the team came out and was ready to go from start to finish. It was a great team effort.”
With the crowd somewhat depleted and exhausted after the marathon between Boston College and Maine in the night’s first semifinal, the atmosphere was rather tepid as the game opened. The Terriers had three of the game’s first four shots, but none was a real scoring opportunity. Then BU failed to get the puck on net for the duration of the period, while UNH notched nine unanswered shots.
A Brett Hemingway wraparound pass at 7:40 set up linemate Preston Callander for a good chance. Around the midway point of the period, UNH began to dominate territorially, steadily adding shots on goal. With Bryan Miller off for holding, the Wildcats made it 1-0 at 14:38. Winnik passed to Matt Fornataro breaking over the blue line to tee up a slapper while BU sophomore goalie John Curry came out to cut down the angle. Curry made the pad save, but the puck caromed right to Callander on the left-wing side. With the goalie beyond his crease, the senior easily buried it.
The goal ended Curry’s Hockey East tournament-record shutout string at 182 minutes, 23 seconds, dating back to Game 1 of the Hockey East quarterfinals versus Providence.
The Wildcats threatened repeatedly on their second power play as well but couldn’t capitalize. Sean Collins made a breathtaking rush through center ice — drawing a high sticking penalty on Bryan “Boomer” Ewing in the process — and stickhandled around the BU net before passing to Tyson Teplitsky crashing the net. Curry made the huge save, and the Terriers got through the rest of the power play and the period with no further damage.
The second period started hopefully for BU, and it got the first few shots for the second time. Then it all began to fall apart, starting with a charging call against Chris Bourque. Again, a power-play shot from the point led to a rebound goal. This time, Robbie Barker fired a shot from the left point, and the rebound kicked out to the right-wing side. Winnik managed to wrist a shot around a BU defender and into the net, high on the stick side.
“What makes them dangerous is they all can shoot a puck,” Parker said of the Wildcats’ power-play prowess. “They all have quick releases; they all can make poised plays. They had opportunity after opportunity to show that.”
Disaster really struck shortly thereafter, when BU looked to narrow the gap on the power play but instead surrendered a shorthanded goal. Bourque broke his stick on a shot from the point and raced to the bench for another stick — probably not the best decision given that an immediate 2-on-1 break resulted. Collins raced off with the puck, dishing to Callander on his right. Callander’s 20-footer beat Curry to the glove side.
“He’s got one of the best sticks in the league,” Umile said. “We have to put him out there against other teams’ best lines, and he’s just been a terrific leader.”
Parker called a timeout to settle down his troops, but UNH scored on yet another power play one minute, 36 seconds later. Brian Yandle, the league’s top offensive defenseman, skated around Tom Morrow in the neutral zone and then fired a beautiful high wrister over Curry’s glove to make it 4-0. At that point, the Wildcats scored three goals on just four shots in the period.
“We do a lot of work on it in practice,” Winnik said of his team’s explosive power-play showing. “We have a lot of looks, and it just seems that teams can’t adapt to it. It’s just been working for us all year long.”
Not much was working for the Terriers.
“There wasn’t one thing I could point to in the first two periods that made us look anything like how we’ve played in the last three months,” Parker said. “Bad time to lay an egg. Maybe we can come back and get this out of our system so when we play in Worcester next week it won’t be our last game of the year.”
The bleeding finally stopped at that point. Each team had a pair of good chances over the last 10 minutes of the period. A shorthanded bid by David Van der Gulik at 18:51 threatened to make it at least a little interesting, but freshman Kevin Regan made the save.
On a power play at 2:09 of the third, Terrier Peter MacArthur finally ended Regan’s shutout bid with a slapshot blasted high through traffic from high in the left-wing faceoff circle. Only a strong save from Curry prevented Callander from getting a hat-trick goal five minutes later.
Winnik made it 5-1 at 14:04 on a Winnik wrister from high in the slot. McConnell’s late goal for BU rounded out the scoring.
Asked if playing three games in three nights last weekend was a factor — especially given that UNH had two more days to rest up and prepare — Parker quickly discounted it. “No factor at all,” Parker said. “We had a plenty of time to rest while we were waiting for BC to finish. Whatever it was emotionally, we were so flat it was like we were coming out to play an exhibition game or a scrimmage against ourselves.”
The seventh-ranked Wildcats (25-9-5) will look to win their first Hockey East Championship since 2003 when they play Boston College, which last won in 2001. The ninth-ranked Terriers (23-13-4) will wait until Sunday to see who they will play in Worcester in the NCAA East Regionals next weekend.