In ‘heavyweight fight,’ Boston University comes up with a late knockout

Boston University and Minnesota-Duluth traded stretches of dominance before the Terriers emerged with a late winner (photo: Melissa Wade).

MANCHESTER, N.H. — Minnesota-Duluth could not have come much closer to its fifth trip to the Frozen Four.

The Bulldogs came into their contest with Boston University a decided underdog in many observers’ eyes. While they were a respected No.2 seed, and BU the regional’s top seed, the gap between the two appeared larger than that.

BU had been in the top three or four in the national rankings for most of the season, won the Hockey East regular season title and then added the league’s tournament championship.

By contrast, Duluth enjoyed the benefits and stature of being part of the NCHC, college hockey’s clearly dominant conference this season, but had finished fifth of eight teams in the league and got bounced by Denver 4-3 and 4-0 in the opening round of the tournament.

While BU boasted the No. 1 offense in the country, Duluth ranked 23rd in offense and 25th in defense.

BU clearly had the star power. Jack Eichel, college hockey’s top scorer, had accumulated only one fewer point than the three members of Duluth’s top line combined. The Bulldogs, in fact, were one of the few teams to enter the tournament without a single 30-point producer.

Props were due Duluth for emerging from the toughest conference and then thoroughly throttling cross-state rival Minnesota in the first game. Clearly, this was a team that had earned its seeding.

But the favorite remained Boston University.

The Terriers jumped out to a 1-0 first period lead, but Duluth tied it in the opening minute of the second, and by period’s end it was 2-2.

Anybody’s game.

“That was a playoff game in every sense of the word,” BU coach David Quinn said afterward. “It was like a heavyweight fight. We controlled the first few rounds, almost had a couple opportunities to deliver a knockout punch, but they’d come back and dominate for 10 or 12 minutes. Then we’d come back and dominate for 10 or 12 minutes.

“Then we did what we do best. We played a great third period. We were relentless. We were smart. We did the things we needed to do to win an incredibly important hockey game.”

Understandably, Duluth saw the third period differently. The Bulldogs’ focus fell squarely on the holding penalty called with less than five minutes left in regulation.

Some will say it looked like a penalty.

But.

The resulting power play for BU was only the second such advantage for either team all game.

The Bulldogs had to be thinking, not now!

To their credit, they killed almost the entire penalty.

Almost.

The saddest word in playoff hockey.

Evan Rodrigues scored the game-winner on a slick toe drag with one second remaining on the power play.

One second.

And although the Bulldogs mounted ferocious pressure in the final minute with their goaltender pulled, even requiring video replay to determine that somehow they hadn’t gotten the puck across the line, they couldn’t get the equalizer. The Terriers had a 3-2 victory.

So close, but yet so far.

“We could have had a couple bounces, but that’s how hockey is,” Alex Iafallo said. “You’ve got to respect [BU], but it’s a tough one to swallow.

“It stings. It’s not how you want the season to end. You don’t expect that to happen.”

Without using the word “penalty,” Duluth coach Scott Sandelin said what his team was thinking.

“It was a great hockey game,” he said. “It’s unfortunate the way it ended. I’ll leave it at that.

“What can you say? They made a play at the end of the power play to win the hockey game. They’re moving on and we’re not.”

When pressed, he added, “It’s just unfortunate that it had to end like … that.

“For all the great chances they had, I would have liked to see it continue, just let the kids play and decide the game.”

Those wishes didn’t come true.

And words by BU’s coach rang true and bitter at the same time.

“There’s a small margin of error in every hockey game,” Quinn said, “and that margin gets smaller and smaller the later you play.”

16 COMMENTS

    • Joe – do you mean that street hockey type goal where he swatted at the puck and it found a way into the net, or that Datsyuk style toe drag in traffic that he buried to win the game?

    • There were stretches were one team seemed dominant, and then it would flip in the other direction. There sure are a lot of good teams this year.

      • From mid-season, I’ve felt the top 8-9 teams were superior as a group to next 16-18 teams. A distinct drop-off. There were a lot of good, but equal teams. No one or two superior teams, except for maybe a healthy North Dakota. Except for RIT or PC (no one can account for MIami’s penchant for playing poorly in NCAA tournament games), the tournament has played out that way.

        • BU has the talent to win it all, but they are the youngest team and are prone to the usual issues of a young team. I was impressed with them staying out of the penalty box.

          • At times, they have serious trouble handling the opposing pressure on their D in their own zone. Case in point, last 2+ minutes vs UMD… Again, a typical problem with a younger team.

    • It was the second overall power play in the game. It was a clear penalty off the face off where there trailing player got himself out of position.

      It was a great game won on a goal scored with great skill and there was time for The Bulldogs to pull their goaltender and try for the equalizer. Both teams played well enough to win. Nothing more than that.

      • I agree it was a clear penalty, but the striped shirts had already let so many clear penalties go, I wish they hadn’t made the call. I like the idea of letting them play, but really the officials needed to start putting people in the box much earlier in the game, there was some flat out dirty play during and after the whistle. The same thing happened last time BU was in Manchester, nothing called in the 3rd until an interference penalty on JvR, behind the play, in the last minute. BU scored a PP goal and went on to win 2-1 and a NC two weeks later. That being said, again it was a nice goal to win it and I’m happy for BU. Just keep it going for two more in Boston.

  1. Overall a great game. You gotta love the juxtaposition of Evan Rodrigues two goals. The first looked like he was swatting at a tennis ball, as if he was playing street hockey. (that “shot” would probably be stopped 99% of the time, but it found a way into the net). His second goal (the GWG) was a beautiful Pavel Datsyuk style imitation in traffic. Remarkably, they look exactly alike on the score sheet. Give UMD credit. They battled hard. This game could have gone either way.

    • Except for Minnesota, everyone played great games. I am not sure what is up with them this year, but they were not the team I have seen on TV in the past. It was similar to their season this year, however.

  2. JCN, agree totally with your observation of E-Rod’s goals. The first goal, just whacking at the puck as soon it became available and towards the goal. The second, with the toe drag and holding the puck back just long enough to let the defender slide by, keeping the puck about 6-8 inches from the blade of his outstretched stick, and then a wrist shot where it needed to go, with #2 Oksanen getting out of the way. This was a solid BU win. It will be a war on April 9th.

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