BOSTON — Matt Willows, welcome to the nightmares of all Boston University fans.
Willows, a junior winger for New Hampshire, scored a natural hat trick in Monday’s 3-1 Wildcats victory over BU. Added to the two goals Willows potted in Friday’s 4-3 series opener, and it’s no wonder Terriers faithful may be seeing Willows in their sleep.
The victory gave the Wildcats a sweep of the two-game series, the back end of which was delayed two days due to a snowstorm on Saturday, and catapulted UNH (18-15-1, 10-8 Hockey East) into fourth place and the final quarterfinal home-ice spot in Hockey East with two weekends remaining.
All three of Willows’ goals came in different fashion, the first at even strength, the second on a short-handed breakaway and the final a 90-foot shot into an empty net. The biggest of those, though, was the short-handed tally that broke a 1-1 tie just as Boston University was gaining some momentum.
After getting outshot 40-27 in Friday’s 4-3 victory, New Hampshire came out with guns blazing in the opening 20 minutes Monday, holding a lopsided 13-4 advantage in shots on goal and a distinct territorial edge.
That didn’t translate to the scoreboard as BU, having posted just a single shot in the opening seven minutes, scored at the 7:40 mark on a seemingly harmless shot off an in-zone faceoff.
Brendan Collier picked up a loose puck after Mike Moran won the draw and fired a shot from outside the right faceoff dot. UNH goaltender Casey DeSmith (17 saves) seemed surprised by the shot and couldn’t keep it from deflecting off his right armpit and into the net for a 1-0 BU lead.
UNH answered, however, at 12:37. Senior center Kevin Goumas took advantage of a puck that bounced off the skate of a BU defender, quickly centering the puck to Willows, whose nifty move around BU netminder Sean Maguire (35 saves) left him with a wide-open net, tying the game at 1 through 20 minutes.
BU coach David Quinn said he was shocked at how poorly his team played early in the game but also felt they were gaining some momentum early in the second. That was until the Terriers went on the game’s first power play when UNH’s Dylan Maller was whistled for holding.
The power play unit looked listless and in the waning seconds, Willows got his stick in the passing lane and tipped the puck to center ice. He then won a race against two defensemen and skated alone, roofing a shot over Maguire at 11:49 for the period’s only goal.
“It deflated us,” Quinn said of the short-handed tally. “The second period we started off, we had some in-zone time. It looked like we may have found our way about us.”
It was the national-leading 10th short-handed goal allowed by BU this season, something that is disturbing to Quinn.
“[The power play] is not two minutes of a free opportunity to score a goal,” Quinn said. “You still have to play hockey and recognize situations. We just made a horrible, horrible play on that goal.”
Holding a 2-1 lead in the third, UNH shut down the Terriers’ offense in the final 20 minutes, allowing just six shots on goal in the final 20 minutes and none very threatening to DeSmith.
At the other end of the ice, Maguire was holding his team in the game, particularly at 12:36 when Willows was awarded a penalty shot after being slashed by Doyle Somerby on a breakaway.
Willows, who admitted he hasn’t had a penalty shot since he was a mite, decided to shoot rather than make a move and Maguire held the fort. He stopped another breakaway by Nick Sorkin later in the period, having already robbed Dan Correale on a one-timer at the midpoint of the final frame.
All of that wasn’t enough to inspire the Terriers, though, and Willows’ third goal of the night into the empty net with 1:17 remaining sealed the victory.
The loss for BU (8-18-4, 3-10-3 Hockey East) makes it seem more realistic that the Terriers will head on the road in the single-elimination opening round of the Hockey East tournament.
BU remains five points behind Notre Dame for eighth place and the final opening-round home-ice spot with just four games left. The Terriers will, however, have the opportunity to make up ground this weekend when they head to South Bend for a pair of games against the Irish.
For New Hampshire, things are certainly looking up, something coach Dick Umile wasn’t sure would happen as his team had, in his opinion, struggled to put forward complete efforts in the last five games.
“Tonight we played a 60-minute game. I thought we were solid from start to finish,” said Umile. “We did a lot of things well.”