BOSTON — After Boston University dashed Northeastern’s playoff hopes in its penultimate game of the season, it was fitting that a former Terrier’s overtime game-winner threw a small wrench into BU’s postseason plans.
Midway through overtime, Huskies blueliner Luke Eibler hustled around a Terrier defender low in the right circle and shoveled a weak shot on goaltender Grant Rollheiser. Before Rollheiser could protect the rebound, Northeastern winger Vinny Saponari – who was dismissed from BU last season – backhanded the puck past Rollheiser stick-side at 2:35 to secure the Huskies’ 5-4 moral victory.
“This game was all about pride for us,” Saponari said. “We had nothing to play for, we’re out of the season. It’s always fun playing BU for everyone, especially for me.”
Despite having only a minor impact on Hockey East’s postseason tournament, tonight’s game seesawed between being a shootout and a slugfest. The league rivals combined for a total of 78 shots – BU with 40 and Northeastern with 38 – on two relatively untested goaltenders who played a total of eight games this year.
“We had more than enough chances to control the course of this game, but we let [Northeastern] back in the game too many times,” BU coach Jack Parker said. “I don’t think we were as thorough as we have to be and I think it’s the second night in a row we weren’t very thorough, but I give Northeastern an awful lot of credit. They’re out of the playoffs, their season is over, and they kept battling until the end.”
Huskies winger Steve Quailer started the deluge with a backhanded blind pass from the top of the left circle to blueliner Anthony Bitetto, who rifled a shot from the left point into traffic that center Braden Pimm tipped past Rollheiser at 6:15 in the first period.
Skating four-on-four, BU center Chris Connolly responded by setting up defenseman Sean Escobedo at the top of the left circle. Escobedo carried the puck through the left circle and wristed a low shot that beat Northeastern netminder Clay Witt five-hole at 18:39.
Connolly and defenseman Adam Clendening took the reins and combined for BU’s first lead of the game just 35 seconds into the second stanza. Clendening dished the puck to Connolly on the doorstep who knocked home his eighth goal of the season. Connolly’s goal and three assists netted him 35 points on the season.
Undaunted, the Huskies fired back less than two minutes later when Pimm knocked the puck towards the low slot after a hard-fought faceoff battle in the Terrier’s zone. Northeastern winger Alex Tuckerman swooped in from outside of the right circle, collected the loose puck and put a wrist shot past Rollheiser at 2:16.
“There were many opportunities where we looked brain-dead,” Parker said.
The Huskies surprised Rollheiser again at 3:43 when blueliner Drew Ellement flipped a wrist shot from the blue line that found an avenue through Rollheiser’s pads.
When the teams were not lighting each other’s lamps, they took turns warming the sin bin. The Huskies accrued 14 penalties, while the Terriers – who boast the ignominious honor of being the most penalized team in the country – exceeded their average of 19.4 minutes per game by a wide margin with 26 minutes tonight.
The Huskies and Terriers traded power-play goals – the only goals either team scored on the man advantage on seven attempts each – in the second stanza, starting with BU’s perfect tic-tac-toe power-play goal at 6:02. Connolly fired a slap shot from the left dot squarely on Witt at the left post. Witt’s decision to hug the left post paid dividends on the initial shot, but left BU defender Garrett Noonan wide open for the rebound from the right side of the crease.
The Terrier’s penalty-killing corps, currently 12th in the nation at an 84 percent clip, succumbed to Northeastern’s onslaught when Justin Daniels fired a pass from behind the goal line to Garrett Vermeersch, unflanked high in the slot. Vermeersch beat Rollheiser with a wrist shot blocker side at 18:06 to put Northeastern ahead 4-3.
The up-and-down battle continued in the final frame, when Connolly accepted a pass from BU defenseman Patrick MacGregor and brought the puck down through the right circle. Noonan found an avenue in the slot and beat Witt stick-side at 3:14 to knot the score at four apiece.
The loss solidifies BU’s third place finish in Hockey East (courtesy of being on the wrong end of a tiebreaker with Massachusetts-Lowell) and serves up New Hampshire at Agannis Arena in the first round of the playoffs.