A couple inches to the right, and it would have been a tie game.
A couple inches to the right and Boston University freshman forward Kevin Duane’s deflection would have sailed into the top corner of the net. The score would have leveled. BU would have been on the verge of an incredible upset.
Instead, the vulcanized rubber caught a piece of No. 2 Boston College goalie Thatcher Demko’s jersey. It fluttered behind the net and shortly after it was gliding into BU’s (8-15-3, 3-8-2 Hockey East) open net with a push thanks to the efforts of forward Johnny Gaudreau.
It was a predictable ending — the best offense in the country beat up on the worst scoring defense in Hockey East. But this one was different. Win or lose, Monday night’s performance in the Beanpot semifinal was the best BU had to offer — and it was not that bad.
“I think we had a couple efforts against [the University of] North Dakota back in November, but that’s the best effort we’ve had in a while,” said senior captain Garrett Noonan after the game. “I thought we played pretty thorough 60 minutes and yeah sometimes you’ve just got to tip your cap to BC.”
A simple way to look at how much better BU played is by looking at the shot totals. BU has typically been one of the worst teams in the country in terms of shot margin, and allowed 17 more shots on goal than it took in either of its first two meetings with BC.
Monday night, the Eagles (20-4-3, 12-1-1 Hockey East) only outshot the Terriers by four, and BU even outshot BC in the first period. BU had not outshot an opponent in a period since the third period of its Jan. 11 contest against the University of Maine at Fenway Park.
The problem for BU Monday night was that its shots found ways to not go in the net. The Terriers hit at least two posts in the contest, one of which came with sophomore forward Matt Lane and Duane both whiffing on a shot from just outside the crease and a wide open net. Instead of crossing the line, the puck poked off of a stick, off the post and into a scrambling Demko at the side of the net.
“Lane and Duane were hacking and hacking away at it, it was sitting in the crease area,” said BU coach David Quinn. “I still can’t believe it didn’t go in there … It was bouncing all over the place like a super ball, so we weren’t able to settle it down.
“I always tell our guys, I don’t want to rely on puck luck, but it’s certainly nice to have it … At the end of the day, you’re going to continue to make your own bounces and your own luck. And we didn’t do enough of it today.”
Even without the “puck luck,” BU played a strong game defensively. Even when it lost freshman defenseman Doyle Somerby to a game misconduct in the second period it held together to keep BC off the board on a five-minute power play. The only goal BC scored after the Somerby misconduct was the empty-net goal.
Sophomore goaltender Matt O’Connor only allowed two goals while making 29 saves in the contest, which is not exactly a lot for him this season. In games that O’Connor has played the entire night, he has averaged 36.15 saves per game.
Monday night, though, it was not all on O’Connor’s shoulders to keep the team in the game. The skaters did it on their own.
“It didn’t feel like our goalie completely stole it for us,” Quinn said. “He gave us a chance, which every team needs, but this felt different than what was going on before Christmas and after Christmas.”
Now that BU has shown it can keep up with the best team in Hockey East, there is a chance that maybe BU can pick up a few wins with the final stretch up ahead. Monday night was still a loss for BU, but at least it is something to build off of.
“We’ve set the bar a little higher than [how] we’ve been playing lately,” Quinn said. “We’ve got to make sure that we take this approach not only during the Beanpot when we’re playing BC, but for the rest of the season and if we do that we’re going to crawl back into this thing and put ourselves in a good position.”