Given Beanpot history, it was hard not to go into this game thinking that it was a contest pitting an irresistible force against a movable object.
On top of having the nation’s best winning streak at eight games, No. 6 Boston University was gunning for its 12th Beanpot semifinal win in a row and its 22nd in 23 years. In contrast, No. 17 Harvard sought its first trip to the Beanpot championship game since 1998.
The Crimson did what they could to buck history, outshooting the Terriers 25-5 in the last 20 minutes in a desperate attempt to tie it up. Still, BU beat Harvard 5-3 and will face Boston College next Monday.
John Curry made a season-high 38 saves, and freshman Jason Lawrence scored a goal and two assists to lead the Terriers. David Van der Gulik added an assist and his first goal of the season — an empty-netter in the last few seconds — for BU. Crimson centerman Paul Dufault led the way for Harvard with a goal and an assist.
“I was very, very pleased with a lot of areas of the game for the first two periods,” Terrier coach Jack Parker said. “I thought we played pretty well early on in the first, but the most disappointing part of the game was the way we played after we went up 2-0 in the first. I thought we started playing the offensive side of the puck and acted like it was going to be Point Night or an easy night.
“And then in the third period, the crowd left; the enthusiasm in the building was kind of low, and our enthusiasm went down. And we thought the game was over. They got the second goal, and then they stormed us. Curry had to play great the last 10 minutes of the game, and we were fortunate in the end … I’d have to say we kind of dodged a bullet tonight. We played very well, but we didn’t finish it.”
“I’d like to congratulate BU,” Harvard coach Ted Donato said. “I thought that from the net on out, they played a very smart, very solid game and deserved to win. In general, our team didn’t show up for the second period or at least didn’t execute in the second period, and it cost us the game. We dug ourselves a hole that unfortunately we weren’t able to dig out of. I was proud of our guys, the way they battled and stuck with it. But ultimately catch-up hockey is losing hockey.
“We have to find a way to play the way we did in the third period right from the get-go.”
BU took the lead just 83 seconds into the game. Terrier defenseman Kevin Schaeffer kept the puck in the zone at the left point, passing it to Kenny Roche in the slot. With his back to the net, Roche slipped the puck to Ewing for a high wrister to beat Crimson goalie John Daigneau from 12 feet.
With Schaeffer in penalty box, Harvard countered with pressure of its own around the seven-minute mark. Curry came up big when left wing Alex Meintel had a point-blank shot at 6:50, then made another big save after losing his stick in the subsequent minute.
BU made it 2-0 at 9:08 when Chris Higgins made two highlight-reel moves in the span of several seconds. Racing in on the left wing, the freshman slipped the puck through defenseman David MacDonald before jumping to get his body around him as well. This set the stage for a last-second move to his backhand to beat Daigneau, leaping once again to avoid the post as the puck went in the net.
“We were in shock,” Terrier co-captain Brad Zancanaro said of the reaction on the bench. “That was a pretty phenomenal move.”
“I was flabbergasted that Higgins played as well as he did,” Parker said. Reminded that he had noted recently how freshmen could be overwhelmed in their first Beanpot, Parker said, “So I was wrong.”
But any thoughts of an early Terrier runaway faded when the Crimson’s productive fourth line halved the margin at 12:06. After Jon Pelle flipped a backhanded pass into the zone off the left-wing boards, sophomore center Paul Dufault collected the puck and went toward the net from a sharp angle. BU defenseman Jekabs Redlihs opted to give Dufault the shot, and it caromed between Curry’s skates before sneaking over the goal line.
Despite having no goals in 85 career games coming into the game, BU junior defenseman Tom Morrow surprised everyone with a shot at 14:33 that clanged off the post on Daigneau’s glove side.
The first 15 minutes of the second period weren’t the most exciting for the crowd, but they had to please Parker. After giving up 12 shots in the first period, the Terriers clamped down defensively: They played stingy defense and didn’t surrender a quality chance all period. Van der Gulik — still looking for his first goal after missing the first half of the season due to injury — had a pair of chances, but otherwise the biggest roar came when Brian McGuirk knocked MacDonald into the BU bench at 6:15.
BU’s tenacious play was rewarded on a power play at 15:32. From the right-wing faceoff circle, Van der Gulik spied Zancanaro beyond the far post and fired the pass. The diminutive centerman buried a one-timer to make it 3-1.
A few minutes later — on a five-on-three for 1:16 after a linesman called a holding penalty that referee Dave Hansen apparently missed — the Terriers took a three-goal lead. With freshman Jason Lawrence screening Daigneau on the cusp of the crease, Kevin Schaeffer fired a slapshot through Lawrence’s legs and in. Donato complained that Lawrence was in the crease, but the goal stood up after video review.
“I do think that it was goaltender interference; I don’t think the goal was a good one,” Donato said. “Their guy’s right skate didn’t allow our goalie to get his stick over, and the puck end up going in the five-hole.”
The better part of the Garden crowd cleared out during the second intermission … and missed a suspenseful ending.
Harvard had a chance to narrow the margin at 3:54 of the third when a pair of Terrier penalties gave it a five-on-three for 31 seconds. Leading goal-scorer Dan Murphy whiffed on one bouncing rebound with a half-open net, and Pelle had two point-blank whacks as the second penalty wound down, but Curry stood tall.
The Crimson made it 4-2 on a goal off of an offensive-zone faceoff at 6:09. Tom Walsh’s shot bounced off Curry’s pads to his right. Teammate Peter MacArthur collided with Curry, pushing him out of position, and Meintel easily potted the rebound goal.
Harvard continued to pound Curry with rubber throughout the period, as BU seemed content to sit on the lead.
“We were losing a lot of defensive-zone faceoffs; they were getting the puck back clean,” Zancanaro said.
With just over two minutes left, BU’s faceoff woes continued, as Dave Watters buried a high glove-side wrister after linemate Dufault won a draw to Curry’s left.
This set the stage for a potentially dramatic finish. Donato called a timeout with 1:39 left. Thirty seconds later, Higgins could have clinched it with an empty-netter but hit the outside of the net. Harvard continued to pressure the Terriers — throwing a whopping 25 shots on goal in the frame — but Van der Gulik sealed it with an empty-netter with 6.7 seconds left.
That gave the Terriers a historic 12 championship appearances in a row and an eyebrow-raising 22 of 23 semifinal wins.
“39 of 43, but who’s counting?” Parker said. “I just said to my assistant coaches, ‘Imagine: 39 times in the last 43 years we’ve won the first game of the Beanpot.’ And [strength and conditioning coach] Mike Boyle said, ‘It must be just a coincidence.'”
BU (16-8-2) hosts Massachusetts on Friday before attempting to win its fourth Beanpot in five years — and its tenth of 12 — on Monday.
“I hope that’s not the beginning of the end of our winning streak because we let some things slide,” Parker said after the near-meltdown in the waning minutes. I’ll be really interested to see the game film: It could be that we played well, and Harvard just stormed us. Harvard has the capability of storming us and any other team once they’ve got it going.
“Were we inconsistent? Were we inept? Were we unfocused? I don’t think so. But we might have let a few things slip.”
Harvard (12-9-2) hosts Princeton on Friday before facing Northeastern in Monday’s Beanpot consolation.