Sullivan backstops Maine to sweep of Boston University

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After pulling out a road win over a surprisingly listless No. 2 Boston University on Friday night, No. 20 Maine had to know that it was likely that its opponent would come out with a higher level of intensity Saturday night.

While that proved to be the case, the Black Bears were equal to the challenge.

Although the Terriers came out hitting and mustered 39 shots against Maine goalie Dan Sullivan, the Black Bears pulled off an improbable road sweep with a 3-1 victory in front of 5,847 fans at Agganis Arena.

Maine became the first team to win its season series against BU this season.

Sullivan stopped 38 of 39 shots, giving him a .956 save percentage for the weekend. His performance overshadowed BU goalie Kieran Millan, who was also excellent tonight, particularly in the first period when Maine out shot the hosts by a whopping 21-8 margin.

Nick Pryor’s first collegiate goal proved to be the game winner for the visitors, who also received tallies from John Parker and Matt Mangene.

Garrett Noonan scored for the Terriers.

“Exciting game and we do feel fortunate – I’m not just saying that,” Maine coach Tim Whitehead said. “Dan Sullivan just had a tremendous weekend. Without a doubt, he was the difference tonight, that’s for sure, but it was a team effort. A lot of guys blocked shots.”

Despite the loss, BU coach Jack Parker was far more pleased with his team’s play tonight.

“Last night, it’s 3-2 and an empty-netter makes it 4-2,” Parker said. “Tonight, an empty-netter makes it 3-1. Sounds like the same thing, but it was like night and day. I was extremely happy with how hard we played. I thought we did a great job killing penalties. The only power-play goal they got was the empty-netter, I think. We did a pretty nice job in an awful lot of areas.”

Maine set the tone for the first period in the first two minutes when Mangene stole the puck and went in on the breakaway, only to be denied by Millan. With the help of four power plays – two on smart penalties that BU needed to take to prevent scoring chances – they piled up the shots, but couldn’t score until just after the last man advantage expired in the waning seconds of the period.

With just 6.9 ticks left on the clock, Parker collected a rebound in the right-wing circle and beat Millan with a high wrist shot. After scoring only one collegiate goal prior to this weekend, it marked the second game in a row that the freshman had scored.

BU turned the table in the second period, outshooting Maine by a startling 19-6 edge to leave the shots completely even after two lopsided frames. The Terriers were rewarded with a power-play goal when Noonan parked himself in front of the Maine net and redirected Adam Clendening’s shot from the right point to tie it up at 2:41.

Maine got what proved to be the game winner at 6:00 of the period. Joey Diamond won an offensive-end draw back to Pryor at the point to set up a slap shot.

“It was kind of a rolling puck, so I stepped into it and gave it everything I had,” Pryor said. “I didn’t even see it go in.”

The shot rang off of a pipe, but did the shot go in? A video review ensued.

“This guy had a missile of a shot,” Whitehead said. “Had to go to the video because it was so fast.”

The goal stood.

The bizarre truth is that it marked the 17th time in Hockey East play that BU has given up a player’s first collegiate goal, and that’s out of just 49 goals against in league play.

BU had any number of very good chances for the rest of the period and into the third, but Sullivan made several strong saves and controlled his rebounds well.

With 1:30 remaining, BU pulled Millan, and Ross Gaudet – an improbable choice as the extra attacker – raced out and very nearly tied it up. Players piled up in the crease as the Terriers desperately attempted to tie the game, but it never happened.

Mangene finally sealed it with an empty-net goal with just 4.6 seconds left. By then, Parker had been given a game misconduct because of his vocal displeasure with the officiating.

The upshot is that Maine has now pulled off two consecutive weekend sweeps against top five opponents in Boston College and BU. Whitehead believes it’s the team’s best stretch since the 2009-10 season, when a last-season run led the Black Bears to the Hockey East championship game before falling short against BC.

“It’s great,” Pryor said. “I think we’re a confident bunch, but I think we’ve been that way all year, not just the last four games.”

“We dodged a bit of a bullet to get out of here with two points, but it feels good,” Whitehead said.

BU (15-8-1, 11-7-2 Hockey East) had to play without two of its better defensemen. Freshman Alexx Privitera broke his wrist in Friday night’s game and is said to be out four weeks. Max Nicastro hurt his shoulder on Friday and didn’t play either, but there is a possibility he will be back in time for next Friday’s road game at Merrimack or the following Monday’s Beanpot semifinal against Harvard.

Maine (14-8-3, 11-7-2) now finds itself at No. 11 in the PairWise, as well as in a tight cluster of the top five teams in Hockey East. The Black Bears will host Alabama-Huntsville next weekend.