BOSTON — Everyone thought that the Northeastern-Boston College game would be a tossup in this year’s Beanpot, but not many outside of the Harvard locker room thought that Boston University-Harvard would be a cliffhanger up to and beyond the final buzzer.
In a classic battle, Harvard played with a tenacity that belied its 5-11-4 record coming into this Beanpot semifinal. Alex Biega buried a shot that would have tied the game as time ran out, but replays showed that the goal came a second or so too late. As a result, No. 1 BU narrowly escaped with a 4-3 victory in front of 17,565 at the TD Banknorth Garden.
Nick Bonino led the way with two goals for the Terriers, and Jason Lawrence notched the game-winner with a power-play slapshot with 1:46 remaining after the teams traded goals throughout the third period.
“The first thing I could think of as the game unwound and the buzzer went off was that this was like the Super Bowl yesterday,” Terrier coach Jack Parker said. “Who’s going to get the last shot? Who’s going to get the last chance?
“I thought Harvard played unbelievably hard throughout the game,” Parker added. “We were getting outworked in the first period … We played better in second period, and I thought maybe we’d have momentum in the third period. But then I thought Harvard played their best in the third.”
“First off, I’d like to congratulate BU,” Harvard coach Ted Donato said. “They’re a tremendous hockey team, and I thought it was a great hockey game. I’m very proud of our guys. We battled to the last second — maybe even an extra half-second.”
If Harvard came into the game as the underdog, it didn’t show in the early going. The Crimson had the first few shots and held their own despite having to kill three first-period power plays. Freshman left wing Alex Killorn had the best early bid, shooting wide at 1:20.
BU almost scored at 2:10 when Jason Lawrence nearly redirected Colby Cohen’s slapshot in during a man advantage. But Harvard ultimately struck first. After some cycling along the right-wing boards, sophomore Alex Biega collected a pass high in the right-wing faceoff circle, stickhandled in, and beat BU goalie Kieran Millan with a far-side wrist shot at 8:19.
The Terriers almost got that back within two minutes, as Nick Bonino whistled a shot from the right wing off the crossbar behind Harvard goalie Matt Hoyle. BU had another golden opportunity at 17:05, when Bonino set up freshman Chris Connolly crashing the net, only to have the left wing shoot wide.
Lawrence had another good tip-in chance off of a David Warsofsky shot at 18:40, but Hoyle made the save. BU started mounting pressure late in the period, only to find itself facing a five-on-three power play starting in the last couple of seconds of the period.
When play resumed, Harvard basically kept the puck in the BU end until scoring 64 seconds into the period. BU d-man Colby Cohen appeared to get tripped by Daniel Moriarty near the boards, but, mysteriously, there was no call. Almost immediately, Crimson forward Alex Killorn capitalized on the lack of coverage, gathering the puck near Cohen and beating Millan with a short-side wrist shot from the right-wing face-off circle to make it 2-0.
With the five-on-four power play still active for Harvard, Millan made a crucial save seconds later, extending his left pad to deny Doug Rogers after a great setup by Daniel Moriarty. Parker felt that Millan and his other freshmen looked jumpy, but felt that Millan settled down to play better as the game wore on.
BU kept pressing, with Zach Cohen getting a couple of chances. Chad Morin sacrificed his body to block one of those from the slot. At 9:50, Hoyle made a good kick save on a Bonino shot, and Millan countered by thwarting Jimmy Fraser a minute later.
Finally BU made it a one-goal game at 12:13. Senior Brandon Yip dug the puck out of the left-wing corner and fed it to Bonino by the nearby dot, and the sophomore appeared to sneak the shot under Hoyle’s arm by the near post.
With the help of a Harvard penalty, BU tied it up less than two minutes later. Terrier co-captain Matt Gilroy skated over from the right-wing boards and backhanded a pass to Bonino near the far post. The sophomore shifted the puck onto to his backhand to slip it around Hoyle for the tying goal, sending the Terrier faithful into pandemonium.
The third period was a chess match for the first six or seven minutes, with a dearth of chances. BU winger Joe Pereira got his head crushed into the boards by Ian Tallet at the eight-minute mark, but there was no call.
The first good chance of the period was a surprise, as Michael Biega took a 35-foot shot that clanged off on iron for the Crimson at 9:00.
BU took its first lead of the night at 11:25, when Zach Cohen’s shot from the very bottom of the left-wing circle caromed off Hoyle’s arm to catch the net from the bad angle.
It was far from over, though. When Colin Wilson was sent to the box for tripping at 14:23, it took the Crimson all of 10 seconds to exploit the opportunity. Alex Biega took a shot from the center point, and the puck went through traffic before going through Millan and bleeding over the goal line. Pier-Olivier Michaud was credited with the goal.
A BU power play with 2:10 remaining loomed large with overtime looking possible. Then Lawrence was left open for a blistering slapshot from the left-wing circle, and it blew by Hoyle high on the glove side.
Alex Biega put the puck in the net as the horn sounded, and the Harvard players went into a wild celebration while the referees underwent a video review to see if the goal beat the buzzer.
“It was obviously in the heat of the moment,” Biega said. “It was a close call, and they probably made the right call. I don’t have any say over that.”
“I knew it was no goal,” Parker said. “I couldn’t see what was happening in the corner, so I was watching on the Jumbotron. It was 0:00 before anybody started screaming, so I knew when they went upstairs that it would be no goal.”
The replay clearly showed that the puck was nowhere near the net when time ran out.
“I thought it wasn’t a goal,” Lawrence said. “Thank God it wasn’t.”
“I don’t think the feeling in the locker room was one of moral victory because it was close,” Donato said. “I think our guys sincerely believed they could win this hockey game. Throughout the game, we were carrying the play. I do think for whatever reason we’ve been in a funk this season. We’re showing signs that that’s behind us.”
BU (20-5-1) hosts UMass-Lowell on Friday night before playing Northeastern or BC in the Beanpot championship on Monday. Harvard (5-12-4) plays No. 14 Yale on Friday before returning to the Garden for the dreaded consolation game.