BOSTON — Battling for both home ice in the Hockey East tournament and a possible spot in the NCAA field, Vermont knew coming into Friday’s opener of a two-game series at Boston University that it would have to play a near perfect game.
Unfortunately, as the Catamounts learned on Friday, sometimes even perfect isn’t good enough.
Despite allowing the Terriers just 15 shots on the night and shutting down the BU power play on five attempts, Vermont couldn’t come out on the right side of the scoreboard, falling, 3-1, to BU in front of 5,936 at Agganis Arena.
“I thought it was the best game we played all year,” said an upbeat Catamount head coach Kevin Sneddon. “We forechecked well and put BU on their heels the whole game and limited their chances.”
The Terriers, though, were the more opportunistic team and that ended up the difference in the game.
Vermont struggled to cash in offensively, most glaringly in the second period when the Terriers handed the Catamounts three power plays including four minutes of straight five-on-four action after an atypical penalty call.
As a penalty was upcoming to BU’s Eric Gryba for charging in the offensive zone, Vermont pulled goaltender Joe Fallon (12 saves) for the extra attacker. As a Catamount forward came on the ice, Gryba was forced to then haul down the player drawing a second minor penalty.
“The first penalty was a real stupid penalty and the second penalty he had to take because he let the guy get behind,” said BU coach Jack Parker of Gryba’s infractions.
The problem for the Catamounts was that Sneddon didn’t realize both penalties were being called on the same player, instead expecting to be the beneficiary of a two-minute five-on-three advantage.
“I put my five-on-three unit out there,” said Sneddon, who took the blame for his team’s inability to even muster a shot over the four-minute span.
That kill changed the momentum and allowed BU, which to that point had been absolutely dominated by Vermont, despite holding a 1-0 lead, to at least catch its breath when it seized the momentum.
A Tom Morrow goal with 15:30 to play was all the Terriers would need with John Curry (23 saves) turning in yet another solid performance in the BU net.
Despite being on the short end both territorially and on the shot chart in the opening period, BU held a 1-0 lead after one, thanks to Kenny Roche’s early goal.
Walking out of the right corner, Roche wristed a shot that seemed to catch Fallon off guard, beating the junior netminder between the legs just 1:41 into the game.
From there, the Catamounts seemed to own the Terriers but couldn’t solve Curry.
Torrey Mitchell and Viktor Stalberg were both denied on the power play at 16:18, Stalberg’s shot a point blank rebound attempt. And in the final minute of the frame, Colin Vick was stopped on a bouncing puck in front.
Vermont held a 9-3 advantage in shots through the first twenty and didn’t allow BU a shot on goal in the final 15 minutes of the period.
The Catamounts carried the play early in the second until BU killed the four-minute Gryba penalty near the midway point of the frame. Still Vermont regrouped and pressured the BU net late getting two great chances late in the period The first, a two-on-one shot by Brian Roloff, was snuffed by Curry, and a flurry in the closing seconds saw the Cats unable to get a shot off from the slot.
With Vermont unable to cash in, the Terriers came out in the early minutes of the third and extended their lead. Brian Ewing skated down the right wing and as he cut to the net lost the puck to the slot. The loose puck wound up on the stick of Morrow who snapped a shot off the right shoulder of Fallon into the net.
“It was a great initial rush and I thought Ewing made a great play to go out wide and try to cut back in,” said Parker of what he described as the game’s most important goal. “We’re trying to get our defense more involved [offensively] and [Morrow] read it right and put the rebound home.”
Vermont didn’t fold its tent and eventually cashed in on the power play at 7:43. Mark Lutz took a perfect pass through the slot and blasted a one-timer inside the right post to beat Curry and give the Cats some life. But from there both Curry and the BU defense stood tall and Chris Higgins’ empty net goal with 19 second left sealed the win.
The win keeps BU alive in the hunt for at least a share of the league title with New Hampshire. The Wildcats clinched at least a tie for first with a 6-4 win over Providence on Friday.
Vermont failed to keep pace with Maine and Massachusetts, each winners on Friday, and fell from fourth to sixth in the leagues standings. All three teams have three games left in the regular season with the Catamounts trailing the Black Bears and Minutemen by a single point.