BOSTON — Boston University’s shortest road trip in its illustrious history proved to be a successful journey Friday night.
Frustrated by a lackluster effort in Game 1 of their Hockey East quarterfinal series against Vermont last night — not to mention the fact their 7-5-5 record at Agganis Arena in contrast to their 9-2-4 record on the road — the Terrier coaching staff took a drastic but effective step Friday morning.
“We just told them when they came for the pregame skate today to pack your bags, because we’re going on a road trip — hopefully a two-game road trip,” Terrier coach Jack Parker said. “So we came down to a different dressing room.
“Just wanted to change up heir routine at home because if you look at our season, we’ve been a very, very good team on the road and a very, very poor team at home. It has something to do with how they prepare for games. We’re not telling them we’re mad at them, you can’t stay in the dressing room again. We just wanted to have a different approach and a different focus.”
The players quickly got into the spirit of the idea, suggesting that they wear their red travel sweats instead of the usual jacket and tie. They talked of going out early for the pregame skate to check out the boards, and they reminded each other to not be intimidated by the hostile crowd.
The result was arguably their best first period at home all season and ultimately a 2-0 win that squared the best-of-three series at a game apiece in front of 4,361 fans. John Curry was about as busy as the Maytag repairman in the first period but came up big in the third period, stopping all 15 Catamount shots. Curry notched his nation-leading seventh shutout of the season and tied a BU record for career shutouts with 13.
Peter MacArthur and Brian Strait scored the Terrier goals, while Joe Fallon had a strong performance in the Vermont net, stopping 23 shots.
“I thought both teams played really well tonight,” Parker said. “We played much better than we did last night in a bunch of different areas — played harder, played better with the puck, played better on the power play. Most of all we passed the puck — we had support for the puck. Generally, everybody on our club responded to a bad effort last night.”
“Obviously I thought it was a great college hockey game,” concurred Vermont coach Kevin Sneddon. “I give a lot of credit to Boston University . A lot of things that we did last night very effectively they turned around in a very short time period and did it to us. In particular, the first period: At the start of the game we really weathered the storm and were fortunate to come out tied after that first period. I thought we played better as the game went on and had some great opportunities. Curry had a great game.”
From the opening faceoff, BU came out with an attitude, playing a physical, smothering style. “We came out right off the bat and we were skating and we were hitting,” Terrier captain Sean Sullivan. “That’s what we usually focus on in road games.”
Granted, the idea of playing a road game in your own building proved to be a weird concept for Curry.
“At this point it’s not even worth trying to explain,” Curry said. “We’ve got one game left in our building, but we’re treating it like a road game, and after that we don’t have any more home games, so it doesn’t really matter.”
As the press corps erupted in laughter, Curry added, “I don’t even care to explain it, but it worked, and now we’ve got to refocus and come back tomorrow.”
What was especially striking about BU’s 15-5 shot advantage through the first 20 minutes was the fact that Vermont had two power plays to one for the Terriers. Perhaps the best chance of the period came at 12:30 when Chris Higgins showed off some nifty stickhandling before taking a shot that Sullivan et al. almost buried on the rebound.
Vermont started turning it around in the second period. Curry was slightly dazed by one shot off his mask, and then Colin Vick pinged the stick-side post at 3:20 . Six minutes later, Higgins undressed Mark Lutz for another bid, drawing a penalty. That led directly to a power-play goal.
Vermont had an opportunity to clear the puck, but Brandon Yip gloved the attempt down to his skates at the left point before crossing to MacArthur high in the right-wing faceoff circle. The junior winger buried a low one-timer to the far side of the net.
“MacArthur’s shot was an NHL one-timer — great feed from Yip, I believe,” Sneddon said. “We wish we could’ve got that puck out.”
The Catamounts had a couple of fleeting opportunities near the net but repeatedly couldn’t get the handle on a bouncing rebound or pass.
The third period proved entertaining with some back-and-forth opportunities for both teams. Peter Lenes had a good chance from tight quarters at 7:45, and then Corey Carlson had a terrific opportunity a minute later.
“I thought it hit the post, but maybe I got a piece of it,” Curry said. “I found myself flat-footed so I kind of used everything I could to get in front of it.”
Just after a Terrier power play elapsed, BU got the crucial second goal at 13:52 . Jason Lawrence teed the puck up for freshman blueliner Brian Strait at the right point, and the puck sailed high through traffic and found the net.
“The second goal Joe was screened by a couple of players, and it just happened to find its way to the back of the net,” Sneddon said.
Vermont steadily pressured BU through another power play and to some degree with the extra attacker, but never seriously threatened to score.
The two teams play the rubber match on Saturday night. BU (19-8-9), now eighth in the PairWise Rankings, should make the national tournament regardless of the result. Vermont (18-15-5) is 19th in the PairWise and likely needs to win this series and a Hockey East semifinal, at the very least, to have a chance to avoid having its season end.