For the second night in a row in this best-of-three Hockey East quarterfinal series between Boston University and Northeastern, the game left a coach praising his opponent and muttering about his team’s inconsistent effort as well as bad bounces and dubious officiating.
Tonight it was just a different coach mouthing the same themes. Northeastern hit the inside of a couple of pipes and yielded 10 power plays—many deserved but a few that were questionable and one that was an absurdly bad call—but they also couldn’t quite match BU’s intensity and effort.
So for the second night in a row, the better team won.
Tonight Joe Pereira—facing the end of his career as a senior—scored twice, while defenseman Ryan Ruikka began a two-game goal scoring streak after scoring just one career goal before the series. BU’s fourth line of Ben Rosen, Kevin Gilroy, and Justin Courtnall had a huge impact as well, and the Terriers evened their series at a game apiece with a 5-2 win over Northeastern in a physical battle in front of 3,676 at Agganis Arena.
After starting goalie Chris Rawling surrendered three goals on just six shots, freshman Clay Witt stopped 29 of 30 shots for the Huskies, who also received goals from Brodie Reid and Jamie Oleksiak.
One night after Northeastern put up a strong 60 minutes to earn a win, coach Greg Cronin was the one left to feel shortchanged and snake-bitten.
“I thought BU played with a lot of snap tonight, and I thought we played well at times,” Cronin said. “We can’t give any team ten power plays and expect to have any rhythm in a game.
“It got to the point where I was just going to put a blindfold over my eyes because I had no idea what was a penalty and what wasn’t a penalty, what was being called and what wasn’t being called. I told the guys to just forget about the penalty and play.”
Enjoying his 66th birthday, Terriers head coach Jack Parker was much happier with his team’s performance tonight.
“In general, I thought we competed much harder and much more thorough than we did last night,” Parker said. “I thought it was a terrific first period for us—not just because we got goals but because we were playing pretty well… I’ve got to give credit to my fourth line, both nights. They’ve played hard.”
It looked like it might not be BU’s night in the early going. They took the first three penalties of the game and fell behind 1-0 on a 5-on-3 goal at 3:25. A pass teed up a Brodie Reid slap shot from the left point, and he nailed it.
BU got a big goal to tie it within three minutes. Behind the goal line, Alex Chiasson slipped the puck through players in the slot. It landed on the stick of Ryan Ruikka, who buried a wrist shot high glove side. Ruikka came into the series with one career goal but now has scored on successive nights.
After Garrett Vermeersch clanged one of the post at 8:00, BU took the lead at 8:26. Counterattacking after a shorthanded rush, Chris Connolly carried the puck in on the right wing before slipping it to Matt Nieto for another high glove side wrist shot into the net.
At 13:01, BU made it 3-1 when Justin Courntnall plowed into a Husky behind the net, leaving the puck free for Kevin Gilroy. He carried it in front and shot it through a Ben Rosen screen, again beating Rawlings glove side.
“We talked before the game that if there was a 50/50 puck that Courtnall was going to take the body, and I was going to take the puck,” Gilroy said.
Gilroy, younger brother of former Terrier captain Matt Gilroy, now has two goals and two assists in his last four games after being a healthy scratch for 21 games this season.
“At first, getting out of the lineup early in the year was rough,” Gilroy admitted. “I let it get to me. But then my brother Matty was kind of going through the same thing with the Rangers at the time. He got into a game, and one of his quotes was that he’s playing the game that he loves. I took that quote to heart and just refocused myself. Coach gave me a shot, and Rosie and Courtnall have been playing great with me. I think we just work hard. We don’t try to do anything pretty.”
Cronin pulled Rawlings a few minutes later.
“He was just deep in his net,” Cronin said. “When he’s not out of his net and aggressive like Millan was, his biggest advantage, which is his size, becomes a disadvantage because he gets dropped and he doesn’t move well laterally when he gets set in that position.”
Northeastern ran into more bad luck halfway through the second, when Drew Ellement’s slap shot rang a pipe. But then they got a break with 25.2 seconds left in the period, when NHL prospect Jamie Oleksiak floated a long shot from the right point that glanced off a pipe and went in to make it 3-2.
After much hitting and many scoring chances for two periods, play bogged down in the third until Pereira scored a backbreaker on a wraparound at 11:37. The Terriers captain added an empty netter in the last minute for a 5-2 final, setting the stage for game three on Sunday night. The seniors on the losing team will be playing their last game on Sunday, and Pereira—the lone senior who plays regularly for BU—acknowledged that he was brooding on that after last night’s loss.
“I’m not going to lie to you: I was thinking about it all night last night and this morning,” Pereira said. “The guys told me it wasn’t going to happen. Our family wasn’t ready to separate. We came ready to play tonight, and we’ve got to get after it on Sunday.”