The Boston University men’s hockey team didn’t do a whole lot of celebrating at TD Garden Friday night.
Yes, the third-seeded Terriers came back from a 2-0 deficit to beat second-seeded Boston College, 6-3, in the Hockey East semifinals. Yes, they have won five in a row and seven of their last eight. And yes, they have extended Jack Parker’s career by at least one more game.
But the Terriers (21-15-2) still have a tall task in front of them — and they know it.
That tall task is in the form of top seed University of Massachusetts-Lowell, the only team in the conference to sweep BU in the regular season. The Terriers and River Hawks (25-10-2), who beat Providence College 2-1 Friday night, will square off at the Garden 7 p.m. Saturday night with the Hockey East championship on the line.
“We haven’t beaten them yet,” said freshman forward Matt Lane. “But it’s tough to beat any team four times in this league, so hopefully it will be a different outcome.”
A different outcome, the Terriers hope, than the aggregate 10-4 edge the River Hawks held in the three regular-season game. In two of those games — a home-and-home series Feb. 22-23 — BU’s offensive effort was particularly futile, getting outscored 6-1 and collecting just 41 shots in the two games.
That weekend, Lowell’s trap defense gave BU fits. It had a hard time breaking in UML’s defensive zone, and when it did it often had to settle for shots from the perimeter.
When those shots did get through — and the River Hawks are in the habit of blocking a ton of shots — the last line of defense for Lowell, freshman goaltender Connor Hellebuyck, was more often than not up to the challenge.
Hellebuyck, who Friday was named to the All-Hockey East Second Team, has played in just 20 games after battling first for playing time early in the season and then injuries later on.
Still, his save percentage (.946) and goals-against average (1.46) are tops in the league.
“They’re tenacious defensively. They don’t spend a lot of time in their zone,” said BU coach Jack Parker. “They block a lot of shots in front of their goaltender, they really pack it in, and they play a little different style of d-zone coverage than most other teams do. We’re going to have to adjust from what we saw tonight [vs. BC] to what they play.”
But here’s the thing about Lowell: They do that to everyone. Widely considered one of the best and hottest teams in the country, UML is 21-3-1 since Dec. 8.
Saturday’s matchup will be a rematch of the 2009 Hockey East championship game, a 1-0 Terrier win. It was also the last time either team made the finals.
There are a number of similarities between that game and Saturday’s, notably that BU is starting a freshman goaltender who has caught fire since his classmate went down with an injury.
Last time around, Kieran Millan took over the starting job in November when Grant Rollheiser got hurt in November 2008. This time, Sean Maguire has turned it on the last five games since Matt O’Connor was officially out for the rest of the season after suffering a collapsed lung.
There are many differences between those seasons — namely BU was the best team in the country from start to finish in 2008-09, while this year’s team has taken more than its fair share of lumps — but the goal remains the same: Take home the trophy.
That sure is on junior assistant captain Garrett Noonan’s mind after scoring a power-play goal in his first game back from a separated shoulder.
Questioned on what it meant to hand rival BC its first loss at TD Garden after 14 straight wins, it didn’t take long for Noonan to change the subject.
“It’s obviously good to beat BC in the Garden — I don’t know if we have yet in my career here,” Noonan said. “I don’t know.
“The job’s not done yet. We need to win tomorrow.”