BOSTON — It wasn’t easy and at times wasn’t pretty, but Saturday night’s 1-0 victory for top-seeded Boston University was still enough to earn the Hockey East championship over Mass.-Lowell.
Playing a game that Terriers coach Jack Parker called “lacking the necessary intensity,” BU had just enough to hold off the River Hawks thanks to a perfect penalty kill that held Lowell off the board in all seven attempts and stellar play by rookie goaltender Kieran Millan, who was named tournament Most Valuable Player.
Millan, who finished the game with 32 saves, was called upon countless times to bail out his teammates. No save, though, was bigger than his final one.
With the Terriers killing a penalty and Lowell goaltender Nevin Hamilton (31 saves) on the bench in favor of the extra attacker, a loose puck bounced to Lowell’s Scott Campbell completely unmarked at the right post.
Campbell got what Lowell coach Blaise MacDonald called “a lot of composite” on the shot. Millan, though, somehow anticipated the play enough to slide right to left for the miracle stop.
“[Millan] has been great all year for us,” said BU senior Brandon Yip, who scored the game’s lone goal in the first period. “We didn’t bring our best game tonight so it kind of fell back on him. It’s hard to think he’s a freshman anymore because he’s been in so many big games and plays it cool all the time.”
BU’s victory ends the Cinderella run for fifth-seeded Lowell, which needed a last-minute extra attacker goal in the final minute of regulation and an overtime game-winner, Lowell’s second of the playoffs, in Friday’s victory over Northeastern in the semifinals to advance to the title game.
The River Hawks understood their destiny rested on the outcome Saturday: win and advance to the NCAA tournament, lose and go home.
“This has been a pretty good journey for us,” said MacDonald. “We can take this sting of tonight, but as I told the team after the game, we’re winners.”
A major factor in the outcome was BU’s ability to shutdown Lowell’s power play, and, more importantly the key to their power play, defenseman Maury Edwards. With Edwards the focal point of the River Hawks’ offense with the man advantage, BU did everything it could to both limit his ability to one-time the puck as well as to clear rebounds and cover Lowell players in front of the net in the event Edwards launched his patented bomb.
“It’s a big part of [Lowell's] power play, getting that one-timer from Edwards,” said BU co-captain John McCarthy. “We focused on getting a guy into his shooting lane because he tends to shoot the puck a lot.”
“It’s tough to not let [Edwards] get a shot; you can’t take that away,” said Parker. “What you can take away is the shooting lane and making sure you don’t get outnumbered in front of the net.”
While Millan’s play and BU’s penalty kill will be talked about plenty, what also needs to be mentioned was a controversial play that occurred in the second period where it appeared Lowell had tied the game.
A massive scramble in front of the net resulted in the puck squirting free to Ben Holmstrom at the left point. He fired a shot inside the left post, but referee Tim Benedetto, standing at the opposite post, made no signal.
After a lengthy video review, video replay official Scott Hansen ruled that the whistle had blown before the puck entered the net.
When asked whether he ever heard a whistle, MacDonald’s answer was curt and to the point.
“No,” said MacDonald. “We heard a whistle, but not, in our opinion, before the puck went in.”
Both teams had plenty of opportunities early, with BU holding a 14-12 advantage in shots on goal in the first. The period featured some premium scoring opportunities for the River Hawks, the best coming on the frame’s lone power play when BU’s Eric Gryba was sent off for boarding at 14:40.
After Scott Campbell missed an empty net at 14:52, Millan made a series of big saves. The best opportunity was from Kory Falite, forcing Millan to flash the left pad at 16:19.
Though it looked like the game might head to intermission scoreless, BU broke the deadlock with 1:24 remaining. David Warsofsky fired a hard shot that Hamilton couldn’t control. John McCarthy shot the rebound off the right post, but Yip was right there to bury the loose puck to give the Terriers a 1-0 lead.
It was a redemption of sorts for Yip, who missed all but the first 91 seconds of Friday’s semifinal win after being ejected for a hit from behind.
“Watching last night’s game was tough to do,” said Yip. “So getting the game-winner really felt good.”
After Lowell’s apparent tying goal was disallowed in the middle of the second, a penalty to Lowell’s Jonathan Maniff as the period came to a close nearly translated to a 2-0 BU lead. Jason Lawrence fielded a rebound and was standing at the left post facing an open net, only to have Lowell’s Steve Capraro get the toe of his stick on the puck to deflect it over the net and keep the BU lead to a single goal heading to the third.
The final period was BU’s biggest test, mostly because the team made a march to the penalty box, giving Lowell four power plays, including a 23 second five-on-three at the midway point of the frame and a six-on-four advantage with Hamilton pulled in the final minute.
That was when the BU penalty kill was at its best, allowing just four shots on the power play, none from Edwards’ stick, and just six shots total in the frame.
While Lowell’s (20-16-2) season comes to an end with the loss, BU (31-6-4) advances to the NCAA tournament as the number one overall seed. As nice as Saturday’s league title, BU’s seventh all-time, is, Parker says that his team will be judged by its results in the national tournament.
“If we don’t have a chance to win something bigger, I think this will be a disappointing season because of how good we are vis-a-vis the rest of the nation,” said Parker.