Comeback stories take different directions for Boston University, New Hampshire

Boston University’s Jack Eichel (9) scores in the third period Friday (photo: Melissa Wade).

BOSTON — The second Hockey East semifinal was a battle of two comeback stories.

For Boston University, earning a spot in the Hockey East championship game with a 4-1 win over New Hampshire on Friday evening was redemption for a legendary program that has gone six seasons without a title and was two years removed from its last postseason TD Garden party.

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The way BU is playing at the TD Garden, every game seems like a comeback. After having to rally in both of their Beanpot games at the Garden in February, the Terriers again fell behind on Friday night, with New Hampshire scoring the game’s first goal 14:34 into the game. Although Chase Phelps’ second goal of the season allowed the Terriers to take a 1-1 tie into the first intermission, BU coach David Quinn said his team has to put a quick stop to any deficits from here on out.

“We can’t have those starts if we want to win championships moving forward,” said Quinn.

BU’s ability to come back, settle down and get its game back under control speaks to the increasing game maturity of one of the youngest teams in Division I hockey.

“When you struggle in the first period and you can settle yourself down and have a good second period, that’s a sign of mental toughness,” said Quinn. “I’m real proud.”

When it comes to a model for that mental fortitude, the Terriers only need to reach back to the last squad to earn a Hockey East title game victory over UMass-Lowell, the national champion 2008-09 team, of which Quinn was the associate head coach.

Terriers goaltender Matt O’Connor, who saved the day Friday night with a spot-on, 32-save performance, looks to that team, which mounted what many in college hockey consider the best comeback tale of all time in its national championship win, for inspiration.

“We strive to bring that type of enthusiasm and resilience, as we saw in that comeback in the Frozen Four,” said O’Connor. “They are kind of like the big brothers we look up to. That team set the tone and showed us how to play in the postseason.”

Just making it to this portion of the postseason was a substantial comeback for New Hampshire. Closing out the 2014 calendar year with just a 6-11-1 record did not bode well for its chances to make the tournament at the Garden.

The Wildcats turned it around, splitting their next four regular season Hockey East series and winning the last two to earn a chance to finish with a 15-17-2 regular season record and the opportunity to host an opening-round playoff series.

“As I told Matt Willows and the seniors, I wanted to congratulate them for bringing this team together for the second half and bringing us to this point,” said New Hampshire coach Dick Umile. “I was proud of the way we played tonight and competed against one of the top teams in the country.”

Umile and his team, especially seniors like Willows, were left wondering what if they had not faced the adversity they had early on in the season. What if a few more of those early season games had gone the Wildcats way?

“It wasn’t an easy situation they went through,” said Umile. “They didn’t win too many games the first half. Three more wins is a big difference in this league. If we had three more wins, maybe we’d still be playing and going into the NCAA tournament.”