BOSTON, Mass. — When Boston University co-captain John McCarthy scored a short-handed goal to make it 3-1 in the first period, it certainly looked like tonight’s game might be over.
In a sense, it was.
Maine had not won a game all season when giving up three goals or more. They were on a nine-game winless streak, facing a BU team that had a 17-game unbeaten streak and which had only lost once since November 22.
Yet the Black Bears responded amazingly well to the gut check, rallying to score five unanswered goals to beat BU 6-3 in front of 4,094 at Agganis Arena to force a deciding game three in this Hockey East quarterfinal series. Standout freshman Gustav Nyquist led the way with two goals and an assist for the Black Bears, who also received two-point nights from Chris Hahn, Robby Dee, Tanner House, Matt Duffy, and Simon Danis-Pepin. Scott Darling made 29 saves for the Black Bears.
Most strikingly, Maine went four-for-seven on the power play tonight, while BU was skunked on five man advantages. The Black Bears are now five-for-ten on the power play this week, while the Terriers are just one-for-13.
“Obviously, we’re thrilled to earn a game three,” Maine coach Tim Whitehead said. “It’s going to be a lot of fun and a great challenge for us. We haven’t come back from a lot of deficits this year; we don’t have a lot of offensive firepower this year, but the mindset we had going into the weekend was really good, and we felt really confident on the bench.”
Meanwhile, Terriers’ coach Jack Parker found his team sputtering for the second night in a row.
“Obviously, it was a completely different game than last night, and the outcome was different,” Parker said. “I didn’t like the way my team played tonight but for different reasons. We played with a little more intensity and heart tonight, but they looked like the BU hockey team tonight and we looked like somebody else. When it’s four-for-seven on the power play, that’s supposed to be us.
“We had some guys come back and play better tonight and some guys not play well. I thought as a group, our corps of defensemen had tough nights. We gave them some goals; we had some bad reads. We didn’t do a good job handling the puck as well.”
After the two teams combined for three goals in 60 minutes last night, it took just over five minutes to match that total tonight. Maine scored 42 seconds into the game when BU defenseman Steve Smolinsky, filling in for the injured Brian Strait, turned over the puck on his goal line, leaving netminder Kieran Millan all alone against Gustav Nyquist and Chris Hahn, who ultimately converted it.
BU got that one back at 3:40 with the kind of gritty goal that Parker would like to see more of these days. Chris Higgins dug the puck out of the right-wing boards and slid it behind the goal line to Colin Wilson, who held off a defender long enough to center it to Brandon Yip for the one-timer and goal.
The Terriers took the lead during four-on-four play at 5:23. Luke Popko’s forechecking helped Matt Gilroy snag a turnover and drive from the corner to the net. The puck was pokechecked away, but Popko batted it home.
The apparent backbreaker for Maine came at 5:23. Short-handed, McCarthy disrupted a Maine rush, and Jason Lawrence fired the loose puck to McCarthy for the breakaway and goal.
However, Maine got that one back on the same power play, just 26 seconds later. Nyquist collected the rebound of a Matt Duffy shot and roofed a backhander.
“I think the whole team just stepped up,” Nyquist said. “I think everyone on the bench was excited to come back. We felt great on the bench, even though we were down 3-1. I’m just so proud of our team effort tonight. This was a great team effort and a very exciting game.”
Just 21 seconds more elapsed, and Maine tied it. Keif Orsini skated into the zone and fired an ordinary-looking wrist shot. Millan should have gloved it, but it caromed off his glove and trickled toward the goal line at about five miles per hour. It was very close, but referee Jeff Bunyon had a great vantage point to make the call and decisively signaled a goal. It went to video review, which gave no reason to refute the call on the ice. The goal marked the first time all season BU had yielded three goals in a period.
The teams took a breathing from scoring for quite a while at that point, though BU still looked careless in their own zone, with defensemen struggling with turnovers and half-fanning on outlet passes. Finally, Maine regained the lead at 10:11 on another power play. Spencer Abbott took a shot from the left-wing circle to beat Millan low.
Kevin Shattenkirk blasted a shot at the very end of the period, but Darling swatted it aside with the stick save.
It still felt like BU might turn it on to pull out another win, but that never came close to happening the rest of the way. Nyquist made it 5-3 at 6:16 of the third on a gorgeous wrist shot from the right-wing circle, beating Millan high on the glove side.
“If you look at most of the goals that are scored these days, they go upstairs,” Nyquist said. “So if I find a spot upstairs, I’ll try to go there.”
The Black Bears basically sealed it at 11:04 when Millan couldn’t cover a loose puck in the crease and Robby Dee knocked it home. Terriers’ co-captain Matt Gilroy had a great short-handed chance off a faceoff at 14:30, but that shot went wide, and it proved to be the last gasp.
“I was real happy for the guys,” Whitehead said. “They’ve worked real hard and not always had something to show for it. Tonight we were able to win the game and build some momentum.”
“The way they played tonight, they were the much better team,” Parker said. “In reality, they probably should be going home right now and getting ready for the Garden because we stole one last night, and now they come back and beat us 6-3.”
Parker agreed that his team has perhaps been rewarded for the wrong behavior by getting some wins despite not playing all that well over the last few games.
“We’ve been on this slippery slope for a while,” Parker said. “You can’t tell them ‘You only tied; you only won by a goal.’ You have to get slapped upside the head, and it will be interesting to see how we respond to that tomorrow night. If we get by tomorrow night, maybe this will be a good thing. If we don’t get by tomorrow night, it will be because the better team came out and stuck it to us. We are not playing at the level we were playing at earlier, and we’d better make sure we get back to that.”
The teams face off at 7:00 on Sunday night for the rubber match. If BU wins, they would play BC or UMass if the Minutemen get by Northeastern. Maine would play Northeastern or UMass.-Lowell if they were to pull the upset in the series.