They’re At It Again

It doesn’t exactly rank up there with baseball’s spring training or nonstop partying in Florida during spring break, but of late, Boston University and Providence in the Hockey East quarterfinals have become almost a rite of spring. “Spring” might have an odd ring to it considering that the first game of this year’s series was postponed because of white-out storm conditions, but this is March and the two familiar combatants are at it for the third straight time and fourth in the last five.

None of which is music to the ears of Terrier fans. Entering the series, Providence might have held only a .500 all-time record in the quarterfinals, but it stood 7-5 against BU. Factoring in all Hockey East playoff games with the Terriers, the Friars held a 9-7 edge. Remarkably, they are the only league team with a winning playoff record against BU.

That advantage comes largely from games held at Schneider Arena, where Providence has prevailed each time. The first such instance came in 1989 when the Friars took a single-game series, 3-2. Ten years later, the two teams swapped 8-2 blowouts in the first two contests before Providence won, 5-1, in the third.

Then two years ago, the two foes had their most memorable quarterfinal series. Providence took the opener, 6-3, but BU rallied to even it with a 2-1 win. The deciding contest went into double overtime, establishing a Hockey East playoff record for the longest game at 96:26, before Providence again emerged the victor, 4-3.

This year’s venue? You guessed it: Schneider Arena.

“Over the years they’ve had a team that has always been a little bit different style than ours and gives us a little more trouble,” said BU coach Jack Parker. “I don’t think this [Providence] team is quite like that as much, but in past years they have been.

“We’ve had problems with Providence, especially down here. That’s why they have the lead on us on in the playoffs because they’ve won the [three] of them down here that they’ve played.

“That’s been a problem for us when Lou Lamoriello was here, when Steve Stirling was here and when Mike McShane was here, so it isn’t as if it’s recent history. It’s a long history. You’ve got to give Providence credit for always playing us tough.”

During this regular season, the two teams couldn’t get enough of each other, taking each game into overtime. So it was hardly a surprise when this evening’s playoff opener once again stood deadlocked after regulation.

“You couldn’t ask for two more closely matched-up teams,” said Parker. “Who ever heard of going four straight games, playing overtimes in all of them? I don’t think I’ve had that ever.”

In fact, this year’s overtime fixation is nothing new. Of the last 14 contests between BU and PC, seven have gone into extra time. Ominously for the Terriers, their record in those OT games has been 0-3-4 with this season’s mark 0-2-1. In fact, that disparate result extended to all opponents during the regular season: Providence recorded a 4-1-3 mark in overtime games to BU’s 0-3-3.

Add it all together and the trends would have predicted another Providence overtime victory.

So much for trends.

Playing at Schneider Arena against a team that hadn’t lost since January and featured Nolan Schaefer, the Hockey East February Goalie of the Month, Boston University won in overtime, 5-4.

“The fourth game [with Providence] — four overtimes,” said BU defenseman Bryan Miller, who scored the game-winner at 8:03 of overtime. “We kind of were hoping it was our turn.”

Indeed it was. Forget the previous OT records. Four times was a charm.

“One year we won six out of six [in overtime],” said Parker. “Sometimes it happens one way, sometimes the other. I’ll take this one instead of the others now.”