BOSTON — On Friday night, Boston University checked the right boxes against Vermont when it came to great goaltending, opportunistic scoring, and being more mentally prepared to play.
Tonight, it was advantage Vermont in all three areas.
While several fantastic first-period saves by freshman goalie Brody Hoffman kept the Terriers at bay, Vermont jumped out to a 2-0 lead before holding off a BU rally in the third. Two goals in the last two minutes broke open a tight game, and the Catamounts prevailed by a 5-2 margin in front of 4.087 at Agganis Arena.
In addition to Hoffman’s 26 saves, Chris McCarthy scored a goal and added two assists for Vermont. Brett Bruneteau and Kyle Reynolds had a pair of points apiece. BU junior Matt Nieto scored again, making it six goals in his last three games.
“First of all, I’m very proud of our team,” Vermont coach Kevin Sneddon said. “I thought we played a very complete game tonight. We weathered storms. I thought BU had a lot of momentum in the third after they scored that goal.
“I’m just really pleased for our guys. I thought we played a pretty hard game last night —- 50 shots on goal and we only had one [goal] to show for that. [Tonight] I thought we did a good job of finishing our chances when we got them.”
BU coach Jack Parker was recognized between periods for his 40th anniversary as coach, but there was not much to celebrate at the end of the night.
“I would that was a tale of two different games,” Parker said of the weekend series. “Vermont was the more gritty team and the more determined team tonight.
“It sometimes happens in back-to-back games: We win the night before; they lose; we think it’s going to be easier, they know they’re going to have to play harder. They jumped us right off the bat, and we never recovered from it. I thought once they gave up because of our lack of effort and concentration and focus, we tried to play harder, but because we weren’t mentally ready we couldn’t get it going. I was really disappointed from start to finish.”
Vermont’s first goal was an omen of sorts. After getting some good puck luck on Friday night, BU was victimized by a bad bounce. On a power play, the puck came out to Evan Rodrigues at the left point, but it jumped over his stick. Matt White raced after it and went in for the breakaway and a short-handed goal that caromed off Sean Maguire’s pads before going through the five-hole.
Maguire was not expected to play. Due to a respiratory ailment that is still uncertain in nature, Matt O’Connor found it difficult to breathe earlier in the day. At the pregame skate, it was clear that he couldn’t go, so Maguire got the tab.
BU almost tied it up when Nieto (who else?) pounced on a turnover and raced in, only to have Hoffman glove his backhander at 6:20. Fifteen seconds later, it was 2-0 Vermont. Brett Bruneteau got the puck behind the BU goal line and skated out into the right-wing circle before firing a sudden shot that got through Maguire.
Less than a minute later, Hoffman made a highlight-reel save. Nieto rushed in on the left wing and crossed to Evan Rodrigues for a shot, only to have Hoffman snare it with his glove. He fell over backwards, and it looked like his momentum might carry the puck over the goal line, but he held his arm away from his body for the fantastic save. He followed that up with another save on Nieto from tight quarters five minutes later.
“We kept giving up the big play in the first period,” Sneddon said. “We made some big mistakes early, and that’s why your goaltender has to be your best player, and he was for us tonight.”
Nieto was contained tonight, but not stopped. Late in the period, he scored on a power play when Danny O’Regan set him up with a cross-ice pass in the right-wing circle. The goal meant that Nieto had scored six times in a row for the Terriers over three games.
Just 39 seconds into period two, Vermont got a huge goal to make it 3-1. Michael Paliotta floated a wrist shot through traffic from the right point for his first goal of the year —- not a great one for Maguire to give up.
“He’d probably like to have a couple of those goals back, but he really battled and made some big saves,” Parker said.
Maguire thwarted Jake Fallon on a great chance at 14:30 of the second period.
BU made it interesting at 7:29 of the third period when Garrett Noonan’s slap shot clanged off the far post before caroming in during a delayed penalty, but Vermont held the fort, and two late goals sealed it. Maguire almost reached the bench for the extra attacker with 1:45 remaining, but he hustled back to the crease when the Catamounts got possession. Just a few seconds after Maguire got back, Kyle Reynolds tucked a shot between his pads to make it 4-2.
McCarthy’s empty-net goal with 8.9 seconds left was a moot point by then.
The win keeps Vermont (11-16-5, 8-12-5 Hockey East) in seventh place with 21 points, two points ahead of Maine and three points ahead of Massachusetts going into the last weekend, and only two of those three teams will make the Hockey East playoffs.
“I think there was a sense of urgency tonight; I don’t think there was a sense of desperation,” Sneddon said. “We talk a lot about applying pressure, not feeling it. ”
No. 19 BU (16-15-2, 13-10-2) is still very much in the hunt for home ice. Terriers fans should root against Providence and Merrimack, especially as BU would win tiebreakers against both teams.