MANCHESTER, N.H. — If you live by the sword, you all too often must die by the sword. Third-seeded New Hampshire learned that in the most painful of ways in Sunday evening’s Northeast Regional championship game.
One night after the Wildcats scored a dramatic late-game goal to force overtime and eventually beat North Dakota in overtime to advance, UNH surrendered a goal with 14.4 seconds remaining to break a 1-1 deadlock as top-seeded Boston University survived an all-out onslaught by a pesky Wildcats team, 2-1.
The victory advances the Terriers to the Frozen Four for the first time since 1997.
Despite outplaying BU for most of the game, the Wildcats found themselves tied at 1 in the final minute. BU had few offensive chances in the game’s final period, but with 45.7 seconds remaining a bid by Nick Bonino forced James van Riemsdyk to hook the sophomore sniper and put the Terriers on the power play.
With the man advantage, Jason Lawrence walked out of the left corner, curled around a Wildcats defenseman and attempted to slide a puck across the crease to a waiting Colin Wilson.
Instead, the puck bounced off Wildcat defenseman Kevin Kapstad’s stick. UNH goaltender Brian Foster (21 saves) got his left pad on the puck only to have it bounce toward a diving Jerry Pollastrone. Pollastrone’s left hand was moving forward at the same time and knocked the loose puck past Foster to crush UNH’s hopes of reaching the Frozen Four for the first time since 2003.
“I thought we played one of our best games of the season against a tremendous hockey team,” said a dejected UNH head coach Dick Umile. “That’s a tough way to lose in the way the puck went in.”
“The defenseman laid out and I was trying to throw [the puck] in the area of Colin [Wilson],” said Lawrence, it went who earned tournament Most Outstanding Player honors for his heroics. “I believe it went off their guy sliding in. Honestly, I lost sight of the puck. I just saw that it went in and we were happy about that.”
The Terriers had to be particularly happy even to be in a position to win the game after UNH dominated BU for much of the second period, hit a post early in the third and was unable to convert on back-to-back odd-man rushes with four and a half minutes remaining.
“UNH took the game completely away in the second period,” said Parker. “They dominated but came up with only one goal because our goaltender played fabulous.”
Indeed, rookie netminder Kieran Millan (27 saves) looked like a seasoned veteran on Sunday night, making save after save when the Wildcats created grade ‘A’ chances. No save was better than a glove stop on Mike Sislo on the last of UNH’s odd-man rushes in the third period. With the puck seemingly headed for the top right corner, Millan flashed the glove to catch the puck and keep the game even.
Parker even compared Millan to one of the greatest Terriers of all-time, Chris Drury, for his poise, saying that Drury is the only other player he’s ever coached who doesn’t get nervous.
“He’s just been amazing as a freshman goaltender,” said Parker. “He just doesn’t get nervous.”
The game began with a fast pace and plenty of chances forcing both Millan and his counterpart, Foster, to come up with big saves. The Terriers, though, were the only ones to find the back of the net.
Corey Trivino pushed home the rebound of Chris Connolly’s shot off an offensive-zone faceoff at 13:43. Trivino won the faceoff to Vinny Saponari, who fed Connolly for the initial shot. Trivino was unmarked in front and calmly pulled the puck around Foster to bury it into the empty net.
The Wildcats nearly evened the game with three seconds left when Saturday’s hero, Peter LeBlanc, was sent in alone. Millan stayed with LeBlanc all the way, though, to maintain the BU lead heading to the second.
In the middle frame, the Terriers began with a penalty kill that might have given them momentum, but UNH controlled the play, outshooting BU 10-4 and eventually drawing even at 5:52.
LeBlanc skated two-on-two with Bobby Butler and at the offensive blue line made a nifty move around Brian Strait to walk in two-on-one. LeBlanc fired a low shot that Millan kicked right to Butler’s stick. The junior potted his 10th goal of the season into the empty net to ignite the partisan UNH crowd.
The Terriers had their chance to grab the lead back in the final minute when Colin was sent in alone, but LeBlanc hooked the sophomore enough to disturb the bid, though also drawing a penalty that put BU on the power play to start the third.
BU was unable to convert that power play, or another two minutes later when UNH’s Phil DeSimone was whistled for slashing. When BU’s David Warsofsky was sent off for hooking at 5:40, UNH was in position to take the lead.
That was when Millan’s best friend, the left post, came to his rescue. Sislo fired a hard wrist shot that beat Millan cleanly at 5:50 but the puck rang off the post to maintain the deadlock.
That set up Lawrence’s final-minute dramatics and punched the Terriers’ ticket to Washington, where they’ll meet another Hockey East opponent, Vermont, in the national semifinals.
“I’ve been [to the Frozen Four] many times as a player, as an assistant coach and as a head coach,” said Parker. “I wanted my players to get the opportunity that so many other BU players have had.”