The first two periods were more than productive for the No. 9 Boston University men’s hockey team, with the Terriers building a three-goal advantage over the University of New Hampshire through 40 minutes.
Yet the opening couple of minutes in the third period were not as fruitful — they were pretty dicey.
As the Wildcats cut the BU lead to just one and made a final push, head coach David Quinn said things got “gut-wrenching” on the bench.
But alas, the Terriers (18-9-5, 11-5-4 Hockey East) killed off one last UNH (10-16-6, 4-10-6 Hockey East) power play and hung on for a 3-2 win over the Wildcats on Saturday night at Agganis Arena.
Looking at the playoff picture, it was a critical win for the Terriers, who moved into a tie for fourth place in Hockey East with No. 11 University of Massachusetts Lowell. BU can finish anywhere between third and fifth in the conference before the playoffs begin in two weeks.
Earning three points instead of four during the home-and-home wasn’t exactly ideal, but Quinn said he liked a lot of what he saw.
“Happy to get three points over the weekend,” Quinn said. “Obviously this time of season, every point’s valuable, and we kind of felt like we missed out on an opportunity to get two last night, but took advantage of the opportunity tonight, got a valuable win. That’s a team that has beaten some good teams, especially down the stretch here in the second half of the season.
“They can score goals, and I thought that we played well overall from start to finish throughout the weekend.”
Before this one got started, BU honored its class of six seniors as part of a Senior Night ceremony on the ice. The players that “mean so much,” according to Quinn, have contributed in many ways to the team’s overall on-ice success and have won all sorts of conference awards and national honors in their four years.
They were also pretty important factors in the Terriers’ first two goals of the game.
Unlike Friday, BU got started right from the get-go this time around. On the power play, senior captain Matt Grzelcyk skated to the top of the left circle and flipped the puck toward the net, looking for a skater in front. But the puck hopped past UNH netminder Danny Tirone after an awkward bounce near the crease at 5:51 of the first period.
And it was Grzelcyk’s assistant captain, Danny O’Regan, who picked up the torch with 6:57 left in the first. O’Regan already had a career night with a hat trick in the first game, and he added his 14th goal of the year in the second.
Freshman defenseman Shane Switzer held the puck at the point, faked a shot and then passed it cross-ice to O’Regan. Standing near the net, O’Regan shot it off an unbalanced Tirone and into the net.
O’Regan’s goal was his 146th career point — in 147 games — at BU, but it was Switzer’s first in six games with the scarlet and white. He hasn’t seen a whole lot of ice time during games, but Quinn said he has liked what he has seen out of Switzer in his rookie campaign.
“I think he did a lot of good things,” Quinn said. “He made a great play on our second goal, and made some good plays. So we’ve liked what we’ve seen out of him. He’s a good player. And he earned the opportunity to play tonight, and played well.”
An effective man advantage in the first came through again late in the second period to extend the BU lead. As a power play came winding down with 6:17 left in the period, sophomore defenseman Brandon Fortunato had a shot blocked, but freshman center Bobo Carpenter picked up the rebound and backhanded it high over Tirone.
BU out-attempted UNH 50-24 through two periods, so things were relatively quiet in Connor LaCouvee’s end, though he did make a few saves on odd-man rushes, like the sprawling stop on forward Jamie Hill toward the end of the second.
Forwards Tyler Kelleher and Andrew Poturalski came into the weekend combing for 89 points, but had just one over the weekend and none on Saturday. Quinn attributed that to playing physical and having good gap control.
But a shutout would not be in the cards for LaCouvee, who gave up two goals in a 3:18 span early in the third.
Fourth-line center Ara Nazarian chipped in a rebound right in front of the net to get the Wildcats on the board 4:16 into the frame. Then defenseman Cameron Marks came in on the rush and wristed a shot top shelf, which cut the Terriers’ lead to one.
As much as Quinn took the blame for developing more of a conservative approach going into the third period, LaCouvee still put the onus on himself.
“I was kind of a bit shaky a bit for the first bit,” LaCouvee said, “but it was awesome to get three points, obviously would have liked the fourth one.”
Indeed, BU did secure two more points, which LaCouvee played a big hand in during the final few minutes. UNH had a 6-on-5 turned 6-on-4 when sophomore defenseman Brien Diffley went to the box, but LaCouvee held tight in the crease, making his final save with 0.8 seconds left on the clock.
More than a win, though, Quinn said he took away something valuable from this one — he’ll won’t approach the third period in the same vein.
“You have to play to win,” Quinn said. “Maybe I created a little bit of a defensive mindset, and you can’t do that. You’ve got to go play hockey. And lesson learned, for sure, from my end a bit. I told them that’ll never happen again.”