Gaudet’s OT game-winner helps BU beat Cornell

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Between a 1-1 tie and a 23-23 shot total through regulation, there was not much difference between No. 15 Boston University and No. 17 Cornell on Saturday.

And both coaches couldn’t argue that a 2-1 final score was a totally fair outcome.

One significant contrast though, was that each coach believed his team deserved the win. That depended on what you heard — or didn’t hear — on a bizarre, but crucial, play with four minutes left in regulation.

Cornell left wing John Esposito took a shot that went over the BU goal and way up in the air. A good three seconds later, when players on both teams had given up on the puck as out of play, it came down on goalie Kieran Millan’s neck and went into the net.  After a lengthy video review, it was ruled that the whistle had blown.

That set the stage for BU’s Ross Gaudet to become the unlikely hero on a great redirect of a Max Nicastro shot at 2:48 of overtime to give the Terriers a dramatic 2-1 win in front of a spirited sellout crowd of 18,200 in this year’s Red Hot Hockey game at Madison Square Garden. Adam Clendening scored BU’s other goal, while Locke Jillson scored for the Big Red.

Cornell coach Mike Shafer minced no words after the game.

“Obviously a great game and a great environment,” he said. “I’m still at a loss for words why the goal wasn’t called. The officials said they heard the whistle. There was no whistle. I was just disappointed because our players deserved for them to get the call right. You don’t get many chances to come down here as a player or a coach.”

BU coach Jack Parker saw, and heard, the play differently.

“They lost sight of the puck for a long time,” Parker said. “They should’ve blown the whistle before that. After they blew the whistle, the puck went in the net. You could hear it clearly on the replay.”

The controversy overshadowed another great story: Gaudet’s goal was his first of the season, and Parker admitted that he had “hemmed and hawed for days” about whether to put Gaudet in the lineup over freshman Evan Rodrigues. Finally he decided to go for an upperclassman who would not have another chance to play in Madison Square Garden. Gaudet only learned of the decision around 1:45 this afternoon.

“It’s the most exciting goal I’ve ever scored, and one of the best moments of my athletic career,” Gaudet said.

BU was clearly the stronger team through the first period-plus. The Terriers came out skating and hitting, outshooting the Big Red 12-5 in the first period. They scored their first goal on a five-on-three after Cornell got called for two penalties in two seconds, much to Shafer’s displeasure.

On the goal, Alex Chiasson shot from the right-wing side. The puck went off a Cornell defender’s skate and caromed to Clendening in the left-wing circle. His low shot beat Andy Iles to make it 1-0 at 11:07.

The tide gradually turned in the second period, and Cornell was clearly dominating through the last 10 minutes of it. They had three good chances, most notably a chance for Matt D’agostino at 13:30 when he got a feed crashing the far post, but shot just wide.

“I thought it was a fabulous college hockey game to watch,” Parker said. “It seemed like they had 50 shots in the second period.  They had all kinds of possession, and some great opportunities. But then I looked at the stat sheet and realized we blocked 21 shots.”

Millan played great under pressure.

“Kieran was terrific tonight — one of his best games ever, especially in the second period, when they were all over the net.”

Back on their heels, BU kept bending, and finally broke midway through the third period. From the left wing corner, Cole Bardreau fed it to Sean Whitney at the right point. Whitney deked around a defender, cruised in, and shot. The rebound caromed out at a sharp angle, and Locke Jillson threw it at the net. The puck glanced off the skate of BU centerman Charlie Coyle in the crease and caught the far corner of the net.

That set the stage for the nongoal with four minutes left, and the Gaudet game-winner in overtime. By then, BU had finally picked it up again and had been looking the best they had since the first period. Ben Rosen got the puck along the left-wing boards and fed it to Max Nicastro at the right point. He shot, and Gaudet somehow managed to get a piece of the shot with his back to the net, redirecting it in low for the dramatic winner. Gaudet celebrated in the style of Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow, going into a genuflecting position.

BU (7-4-1) hopes to extend its four-game winning streak when facing archrival Boston College in a home-and-home series next weekend. Cornell (6-3) hosts St. Lawrence and Clarkson on Friday and Saturday.