BOSTON — David Van der Gulik’s hat trick and a seemingly decisive three-goal margin is what might jump out at those who read the box score without having seen Boston University’s 4-1 victory over Massachusetts in the first of their best-of-three Hockey East Quarterfinal series.
For the Spring Break-depleted crowd of 2,903 at Agganis Arena, however, the real story was a pretty even game between a No. 1 seed and a No. 8 seed, and the difference was some puck luck and a contrast between a very solid John Curry in the BU net and a shaky Gabe Winer at the other side of the ice.
Behind Curry’s 25 saves, Van der Gulik’s hat trick, and a three-point night by linemate John Laliberte, BU is one win away from the Hockey East semi-finals and a matchup with New Hampshire or UMass-Lowell.
“The first thing that jumps out at me tonight about my team is that John Curry played very well,” Terrier coach Jack Parker said. “He had some tough saves in the first period and third period. We didn’t give up a lot of shots, but we gave up some good ones. I thought he made a couple of subtly great saves that kept them from getting any kind of momentum. You saw what happened when they scored the goal: they got a lot of momentum for a while there.
“In general I thought it was a good effort by our team against a team that gives us trouble because they can skate. We’ve had real good games with them this season, and this was a similar kind of game that we’ve had the last three, and I’m sure it will be the same tomorrow night. We’re going to have be more thorough tomorrow night if we’re going to get by this team. I thought that they were more thorough than we were tonight.”
UMass coach Don “Toot” Cahoon was pleased by his team’s effort but chagrined by his team’s fortunes through the first 40 minutes.
“Down two goals after what we thought was a respectable first and second period obviously puts you in a goal that you don’t want to be in against this team or any team for that matter,” Cahoon said. “We got that first goal to make a one-goal game out of it and then gave up a goal that I’m sure our goaltender would like to have back.
In many ways, the game was a familiar refrain for the Minutemen at Agganis Arena this season.
“That’s been our trouble against BU. In all of our games here this year, we’ve played pretty well but haven’t generated a lot of scoring opportunities,” Cahoon said. “I think it’s a credit to BU and one of the reasons they’re first in the league. I thought the way game was played wasn’t such a distinct advantage to them except they capitalized a couple of times.”
BU’s first goal was a lucky one. Van der Gulik got behind the net and threw the puck into the slot, only to have it carom off the skate of freshman defenseman Topher Bevis and slip by Winer.
“I’ll take whatever I can get,” Van der Gulik said. “You throw it at the net, and things happen. It’s nice to get some bounces because I know I’ve had a lot of chances since I’ve come back this year and not a lot were going in.”
“It hit a skate and then changed direction,” Cahoon said. “The goalie was not as patient as he needs to be. He came out and gave him some space.”
There weren’t many stellar scoring chances for the remainder of the period. BU’s good fortune continued in period two, when Minuteman freshman Cory Quirk fired a wicked wrister from behind a screen at 3:38. The puck went over Curry’s shoulder and caught the underside of the crossbar. Two or three inches lower and the game would have been tied.
Just 22 seconds later, Van der Gulik got his second goal-a pretty one this time. Laliberte dished the puck to the BU co-captain on the left wing, and he fired a shot that beat Winer, far side.
“I absolutely saw that and aimed for it,” Van der Gulik said. “It’s been one of the only goals I’ve scored this year where the goalie was in front of me. Most of them have been empty nets or poking it behind him, so it was nice to get a good goal for once.”
“I think the second goal by Van der Gulik was the turning point,” Parker said. “We had a rush going, and he put it by him on the far side, and that kind of put us at ease a little bit.”
The winger very nearly pulled off a natural hat trick minutes later, when he took a feed from fellow co-captain Brad Zancanaro and sniped a wrister from the right-wing side that clanged off the far-side post.
The third period started sluggishly but picked up dramatically when UMass went on a five-on-three for over a minute at 4:59. Cahoon called a timeout to rest up his best personnel, and it paid off with a goal before the first penalty expired. Chris Capraro passed from the point to Marvin Degon in the right-wing faceoff circle. Degon returned the pass, and Capraro buried a slapper through traffice to make it 2-1.
Play picked up from there, and Winer made his best save of the night at 10:30. After stopping Bryan Ewing on a two-on-one, Winer windmilled his pads in the air to stop Zancanaro on the rebound bid from close range.
Unfortunately for the Minutemen, though, Winer yielded a soft goal less than four minutes later. On a BU power play, a Dan Spang shot went right into his midsection, but Winer simply dropped the rebound. Laliberte poked it home.
“I kind of just turned around, and the puck was just laying there, so I took a whack at it,” Laliberte said. “Lucky to go in, I guess.”
“Gabe Winer has been a fabulous player for this program for four years and has won more big games than any other goaltender ever has at UMass,” Cahoon said. “He’s been brilliant in tournaments, and his performance two years ago at the Garden measures up with some of the best performances ever there seen at the college level. So this is not throwing Gabe Winer under the bus, but I’m sure this is a game that Gabe would like to have back.”
Van der Gulik notched his second collegiate hat trick on an empty-net goal with 44.9 seconds remaining-his third empty-netter in just 20 games played this season.
“It’s great to get another empty-net goal,” he said. “I’m trying to go for the record this year I think.”
All the same, Van der Gulik felt his team would need to step things up a notch on Saturday night.
“I thought we played pretty good tonight, but not as good as we have in the past,” he added. “We had the goal early and kind of sat on that. Amherst was trapping us pretty good, so I thought we played pretty solid, but we’re going to have play a little better if we’re going to make it to the Frozen Four.”
For UMass (13-20-2), Cahoon said that he would decide tomorrow whether to stick with Winer in net or play freshman Jon Quick, who stopped 39 of 41 shots in the team’s one win against BU this season, a 4-2 victory on November 12.
BU (22-9-4) looks to solidify its status as a No. 1 seed in the PairWise Rankings as well earn a trip to the Garden on Friday night.