So much for the so-called home-ice advantage.
In a battle between two teams which have significantly better records on the road than they do at home, perhaps it should be no surprise that the visitors chalked up another win.
The two best defensive teams in Hockey East actually scored four goals in the first 17 minutes before No. 19 Vermont finally knuckled down and shut out No. 8 Boston University the rest of the way, beating the Terriers 3-2 to take a 1-0 lead in the best-of-three quarterfinal series in front a spring break-depleted crowd of 3,977 at Agganis Arena.
Peter Lenes led the way with a goal and an assist for the Catamounts, while Brayden Irwin notched the game-winner early in the second period on a gorgeous backhand. Goaltender Joe Fallon rebounded from a subpar effort versus Lowell last Friday to stop 20 of 22 BU shots for the win. John McCarthy and Kenny Roche scored for the Terriers.
“I was real proud of our team,” Vermont coach Kevin Sneddon. “I thought we did a great job tonight, especially late in the game when BU put a lot of pressure on us. I thought our defensive corps and Joe Fallon did a great job on some of those in-tight saves.
“But really the game for us was our answer early on. We’ve had, unfortunately, some bad luck in games as of late in the first five minutes, and we gave up another goal early on. And I thought our response to that was better than I’ve seen all year. We end up getting the equalizer right away and then going up 2-1.”
For Terrier coach Jack Parker, the game brought back some disheartening memories of Terrier performances earlier in the season.
“I thought we got outworked,” Parker said. “We got outwilled. The first period was a weird period for a BU-Vermont with four goals scored — couple of wide-open opportunities. That usually doesn’t happen. But after that, they clamped us down pretty good: We got five shots in the second period and six shots in the third period.
“We outattempted them: We attempted 53 shots, and they blocked 19 of them. The thing that really showed me the difference in the will was faceoff situations. We lost faceoff after faceoff after faceoff. Even when we won it, we lost it because they were more alert, more determined — the puck was lying around, and they’d grab it. I thought that they did a terrific job in front of Fallon; we didn’t get a lot of grade ‘A’ shots.”
Coming off an eight-day break since its last game, BU actually looked great coming out of the starting gate. The Terriers were rewarded with a goal at 2:19 . With Vermont amidst a line change, freshman defenseman Eric Gryba picked up the puck near the Catamount bench and passed to McCarthy crossing the blue line. The fourth-line centerman blew by defenseman Slavomir Tomko and beat Fallon with a backhanded move, slipping the puck in the five-hole. It looked pretty slick for a guy who had only scored one goal this season to date.
However, Vermont got it back just 59 seconds later. On a delayed penalty call, the whole top line took turns with the puck before it got centered from the left-wing corner to the slot. Lenes got a piece of it before Mark Lutz skated in and buried it on Vermont’s first shot of the game.
UVM took its first lead of the night at 9:24 thanks to winning what would be one of many successful individual battles on the night. Lenes dumped the puck in the zone, and BU’s Tom Morrow had a clear path to the puck behind the goal line. But then first-line centerman just outpositioned him, hip-checking Morrow into the boards before grabbing the puck and feeding it back to Lenes crashing the net. The Vermont native beat Terrier netminder John Curry high, glove-side, with a pretty wrister.
BU got the equalizer at 14:32 with a little help from a careless play by Lutz behind the Catamount net. Lutz blindly threw a soft backhander out toward the right-wing faceoff circle, where Bryan Ewing intercepted it and threw it on net. Peter MacArthur flailed at the loose puck and Kenny Roche fanned on it once before putting it home.
“I said that to my assistant in between periods: ‘Who in the world thought it would be 2-2 after the first period!’” Sneddon said. “But as the game wore on, it became more of those one-on-one battles against the wall, which is more standard BU-Vermont hockey.”
Any hopes that BU’s second goal would trigger a surge were dashed at 1:52 of the second. This time a fairly blind backhander reaped major dividends for the Catamounts.
“Vik Stalberg made a great play coming out of the corner, real strong on the puck,” freshman Brayden Irwin said. “Just got the puck to the net, which is something we’ve been working on all week in practice. I just happened to be in the right spot at the right time — a lucky bounce.”
It looked more dazzling than lucky from the press box.
There weren’t too many chances either way for the rest of the period, though Reese Wisnowski and Tom Collingham flirted with a shorthanded bid at the eight-minute mark. Most notably in the period, Terrier sophomore Brandon Yip overreacted to a Vermont penalty in the BU end and drew a five-minute major for charging — partially offset by Vermont getting two minors to BU’s one after the fracas. Vermont didn’t seriously threaten during its three-minute advantage, but BU lost valuable time and energy killing it off.
Curry did his best work of the night early in the third period on that power play and another one shortly thereafter, stopping Strong and Stalberg and then dodging a bullet when a Stalberg shot went through the crease near the goal line.
In turn, Fallon made his best save of the night at the 13-minute mark. McCarthy — arguably BU’s most effective forward Thursday — set up Dan McGoff for a point-blank shot, only to have Fallon come up with the great glove save.
The Terriers pulled Curry with 91 seconds left and mustered some opportunities amidst a couple of scrums but could not tie it up.
BU (18-8-9) is now just 7-5-5 at home as opposed to 11-3-4 on the road. Vermont (18-14-5) now has a 9-6-3 record on the road after finishing 8-8-2 at home. BU will have to try to reverse that trend on Friday night.
“Tomorrow’s going to be a lot tougher,” Sneddon said. “There’s no celebrating in that locker room right now; it’s pretty quiet. Guys are stretching and very focused.”
“The difference of the game was strictly the will — the determination to win each individual battle,” Parker reiterated. “So we’re going to have to find our hearts and our intensity to be willing to do battle against a team for whom it’s second nature.”