BOSTON — The fourth time was the charm for New Hampshire tonight.
After a three-game sweep by No. 6 Boston University in the regular-season series, UNH played a masterful road game tonight, thoroughly outplaying their hosts. The heroics of Terriers netminder Kieran Millan sent the game into double overtime, but the Wildcats finally prevailed, 3-2, in the longest game in Agganis Arena history.
Freshman left wing Grayson Downing won it at precisely 2:00 of the second overtime period, scoring on a typical blink-and-you’ll-miss-it overtime goal. That made a loser of Millan, who had a career high of 47 saves.
However, the real story was a Herculean effort by a Wildcats team that is in danger of becoming the first New Hampshire team to finish below .500 since 1995-1996 — the longest streak of any Hockey East program. UNH flummoxed BU with a relentless two-man forecheck, and the BU defensemen coughed up countless turnovers in their own end.
“Needless to say, it was a great game for us,” UNH coach Dick Umile said. “I thought our team played extremely well in every part of the game. All lines did a good job of defending BU; they’re obviously a very talented team with a very talented goaltender. To get pucks by was not easy, and we found a way to get it done tonight.”
Coming off two sluggish efforts in a split with Northeastern last week, BU coach Jack Parker seemed baffled by his team’s low energy tonight.
“I thought that my team looked absolutely legless tonight from the beginning of the game until the end of the game,” Parker said. “UNH certainly deserved to win. They played extremely well. If it wasn’t for Kieran Millan, I think they could’ve gotten seven goals tonight. I thought Kieran played great, kept us in the game, tried to steal one.”
Asked why the team was legless, Parker didn’t have a definitive answer, but noted that the team has struggled with a flu bug for the last week and a half. Beyond Millan, he believed that defenseman Sean Escobedo was the only Terrier who had a strong game.
“It looked like we were skating in sand and they were skating on ice all night,” Parker said. “It was like watching a team I didn’t recognize tonight, not effort-wise, but skating-wise.”
BU looked shaky in its own end from the beginning, but managed to take a 1-0 lead on a terrific effort by left wing Matt Nieto. The speedy sophomore confounded defenseman Connor Hardowa, passing the puck to himself off the left-wing boards and speeding around his opponent before crossing to Alex Chiasson crashing the net. Chiasson put the puck on his backhand and had half the net to shoot at as goalie Casey DeSmith went down.
However, ongoing carelessness by BU in its own end led to a 1-1 score. Millan stopped Kevin McCarey’s initial shot, only to have Nick Sorkin roof the rebound at 17:20.
Forty-four seconds later, UNH took the lead when Kevin Goumas threw a soft wrister at the net from just inside the blue line. It seemed as if Millan never really saw the puck, which glanced off his arm and went in.
The Terriers played somewhat better in the second period and tied it up late in the period. Alexx Privitera made a long backhanded pass to spring senior Kevin Gilroy for a breakaway. The right wing had scored only one goal all season, but expertly faked the shot before easily slipping the puck past DeSmith on his backhand.
UNH dominated the third period, outshooting BU by an 18-10 margin, but couldn’t solve Millan, despite any number of close calls and bad-luck bounces. UNH continued to have the better of the opportunities in the first overtime. At one point, Millan seemed to think that Greg Burke’s shot had slipped through his pads, but he stopped it.
Downing ended it early in the second overtime.
“It happened really quick. The puck bounced up against the glass. I don’t know who their defender was who grabbed it. I know I took it off his stick, but I couldn’t tell you much else. I was just trying to get it to the net and the goal line. I just threw it on the net, and the next thing I was getting taps on the head and everyone was yelling.”
While a double-overtime loss is tough for any team to swallow, Umile agreed that it would’ve been devastating for his team to lose after playing so well on the road and outshooting a higher seed dramatically.
“No doubt about it. We played as well as we’ve played, and we’ve had difficulty scoring goals. We had some great looks earlier in the night that didn’t go in, and fortunately that one went in.”
BU (21-13-1) will try to tie up the series in tomorrow’s game, which will be telecast on NESN at 4 p.m. UNH (15-17-3) will attempt to punch a ticket to the TD Garden.
For the Terriers, one oddity of the series is that they have now played all nine of the other Hockey East teams in the last nine years of the Hockey East quarterfinals.