BOSTON — The playoffs are still two weeks away, but No. 15 Boston University appeared to be in postseason form tonight.
The Terriers arguably played their best game of the season, dominating Vermont territorially early and eventually earning dividends on the scoreboard. A Catamount goal with 4.5 seconds left was the only blemish on a 3-1 victory in front of 4,898 fans at Agganis Arena. The win clinches home ice in the Hockey East playoffs for the Terriers, who also passed Merrimack in the league standings to move into third place going into the last weekend of the regular season.
Kieran Millan made 28 saves for the victors, who also received goals from Chris Connolly, Alex Chiasson, and Matt Nieto. Vermont netminder Rob Madore was the standout for the Catamounts, stopping 31 saves including 16 in the first period to keep his team in the game.
“I thought it was a really thorough game,” Terriers head coach Jack Parker said. “We talk about progress, not perfection, but that’s about as sharp as we can be for 60 minutes. I thought we played extremely well in all three zones.
“I thought we played smart with the puck and even smarter without the puck. A bunch of guys had great nights tonight; everyone played well.”
Vermont head coach Kevin Sneddon’s team hung tough, keeping the game close despite losing two left wings due to game misconducts for hitting from behind.
“I thought BU played a terrific game,” Sneddon said. “We didn’t have a lot of space out there. They did a good job of positioning and pressuring… We weren’t shocked [by their effort], but we were impressed by it.”
Offensively, the Terriers played about as well as team can play without scoring in the first period, outshooting the Catamounts by a 16-5 margin. BU dominated for several minutes at a time, cycling the puck better than they have all year and getting some good chances. On a power play at 9:00, Wade Megan nudged a rebound toward the far corner, only to have a Catamount defender clear it.
Thirty seconds later, Vermont almost got a shorthanded goal. Terriers defenseman Adam Clendening got caught pinching from the left point, and H.T. Lenz raced off for a breakaway and shot that pinged the outside of the post.
The Catamounts followed that up with a brutal turnover by freshman defenseman Arthur Griem, who fanned on the puck while carrying out of his own end at 11:45. That gift was given to BU center Sahir Gill, but UVM goalie Rob Madore thwarted his breakaway with a great pad save. “He made some show-stopping saves to keep it a ballgame,” Sneddon said.
Seconds later, Chris Connolly had a pair of great chances, hitting the post on one of them. BU had a 15-2 advantage in shots through 13 minutes but nothing to show for it. In fact, Vermont almost took the lead with three minutes left in the period, but Kieran Millan made the save when Lenz threatened again when he crashed the net and almost tipped in a Jack Downing pass.
Still, Parker was delighted by the opening stanza.
“At the end of the first period, I said, ‘Hey guys, I hate to tell you this: I could come in and say you can’t play much better, but you’re going to have to play better because we didn’t get a goal.’”
Much of the second period action ensued after a five-minute major called on Vermont left wing Connor Brickley for hitting Wade Megan from behind at 8:30. On the lengthy power play, BU finally scored at 10:13. In the left-wing circle, Sahir Gill appeared ready to shoot but instead flipped a pass to Chris Connolly creeping in from the point. The junior’s wrist shot beat Madore high, stick side.
The Terriers almost got another one 30 seconds later, only to have the rebound of a Garrett Noonan shot bounce over Matt Nieto’s stick with half of the net open. Vermont countered with a near shorthanded goal after that when a Clendening turnover gave Josh Burrows a breakaway. Millan came up big to preserve the 1-0 lead.
Clendening redeemed himself at 17:30 with a fantastic 100-foot pass that hit Alex Chiasson just as he crossed the blue line for a total breakaway. Chiasson made a move before beating Madore high on the glove side.
Connolly had yet another great chance at 3:50, only to backhand it just wide. Seconds later, BU put one in, only to have it disallowed upon video review. Charlie Coyle redirected Max Nicastro’s shot in off his skate, so it didn’t count.
H.T. Lenz had another shorthanded chance on a rebound of a Nick Bruneteau shot at 10:30. That was Vermont’s last gasp, as Jack Downing ended up getting the team’s second five-minute major for hitting from behind at 13:59, negating a power play and any serious chance of getting two goals to tie it in the waning minutes.
With 2:09 left, BU made it 3-0. Corey Trivino centering pass ended up on the stick of a UVM defender who couldn’t keep the handle on it. Matt Nieto knocked it home.
With the goalie pulled, Vermont scored with 4.5 seconds left to foil the shutout. The goal was initially credited to Josh Burrows, but later it was determined that Tobias Nilsson-Roos scored with assists to Burrows and Sebastian Stalberg.
“We were very happy with the effort,” Terriers co-captain Connolly said. “As a whole, that was up there as one of our top games—maybe the best.”
BU (17-9-8 overall, 14-5-6 in Hockey East) concludes the regular season with a home-and-home series against Northeastern next weekend, while Vermont (7-18-7, 5-14-6) wraps up with a pair at home against UMass Lowell.