In the opener of a best-of-three Hockey East quarterfinal series Friday night, the Boston University men’s hockey team skated to a convincing 3-0 win over the University of Massachusetts Lowell.
“It was one of the better games we’ve played in a while,” BU head coach Albie O’Connell said. “It was good to see, especially at this time of year.”
Returning to Lowell for Game 2 of the quarterfinals Saturday night, the Terriers turned in a valiant effort but ultimately could not catch up to the hosts, who took the contest 6-4.
“I’ll give our guys credit,” O’Connell said. “We battled hard.”
There was little to separate the two teams in the early stages of the Friday contest. BU claimed the immediate territorial advantage, putting up three shots on target in the first three minutes.
“It was good to get off to a good start,” said O’Connell, whose Terriers were looking to rebound from a 6-0 thrashing at the hands of the University of Maine in the regular season finale on March 9.
Lowell was able to gain ground as the period wore on, challenging the Terriers with physicality on both ends.
“It’s … the playoffs, so they’re going to be a bit more physical,” freshman forward Joel Farabee said.
The back-and-forth play was mirrored by the nearly identical first period efforts of both goaltenders. BU junior Jake Oettinger turned aside the seven shots against him, while UML’s Christoffer Hernberg stayed perfect against eight attempts.
Hernberg’s greatest scare came in the final seconds of the frame when BU junior forward Patrick Curry found space in the slot and ripped one that the keeper fought off.
“Our forwards were committed to playing the right way,” O’Connell said of his attacking contingent.
Despite the high energy from both sides, the scoreless deadlock could not be broken through 20 minutes, and the teams retreated to the locker rooms still awaiting the opening tally.
“It was a hard-fought game,” O’Connell said.
After a goalless first period, it did not take long in the second for the game to find a score. It was BU who drew first blood, getting on the board six minutes into the frame.
After a pass from sophomore defenseman Kasper Kotkansalo, fellow blueliner and junior co-captain Dante Fabbro fired away from long range. Positioned just inside the left circle, Farabee got just enough of his stick on the shot to beat Hernberg with the redirection.
It was the first collegiate postseason goal for the Philadelphia Flyers prospect, who led the team in both goals (13) and points (31) at the conclusion of the regular season.
“The first goal was huge,” O’Connell said.
With the goalless draw broken, the game began to open up. The River Hawks peppered Oettinger from up close throughout the second half of the frame, but the Minnesota native could not be beaten, racking up 21 saves throughout the 40 minutes.
“From the drop of the puck, [Oettinger] was locked in,” O’Connell said.
With the ice tilting toward the Terrier end, BU gained a lifeline through the game’s first penalty with two minutes to play in the period. It would not take long for the BU power play unit to take full advantage and double their lead.
Soaring into the attacking end, sophomore defenseman David Farrance found a soft spot in the four-man River Hawks defense and drove straight in on Hernberg. With the keeper committed, Farrance fed classmate and fellow defenseman Cam Crotty at the far post, who buried it easily.
The tally was just the fifth of Crotty’s collegiate career, with three of the five coming against UMass Lowell. Farrance’s assist also marked his 20th as a Terrier.
“Farrance can really skate,” O’Connell said. “He can make highlight plays.”
BU trailed in shots on goal 21-17 after 40 minutes, but the Terriers had their heads held high, taking a two-goal advantage into the second intermission.
“We had a lot of energy,” O’Connell said.
BU carried the momentum through to the final frame, showcasing their penalty kill early in the period by keeping the River Hawks at bay on their only power play opportunity of the night.
“We just played smart,” O’Connell said.
The Terriers nearly sealed the victory toward the halfway point in the period on a breakaway for sophomore forward Ty Amonte, but Hernberg read the forehand-backhand move. Chances proved to be scarce for BU in the third, but the Terrier defense was solid when called upon.
The River Hawks poured on the pressure in the game’s waning minutes, but they could not reach the back of the BU net. With several shots finding bodies in front and sailing wide, Lowell managed only four shots on target in the final frame.
“Our forwards and [defense] did a good job of blocking shots,” O’Connell said.
Surviving a final push from the River Hawks, the third Terrier goal would come with the clock ticking into the minute to play and the Lowell net empty.
Securing possession in his own zone, Farabee whipped the puck deep into the River Hawks end. Curry won the footrace and slid the loose puck across the line, notching his 12th goal of the season and putting the finishing touches on BU’s impressive win.
“We played hard tonight,” O’Connell said.
The Terriers would finish on top 3-0, taking the upper hand in the series.
Oettinger’s 25 saves were by no means his most heroic as a Terrier, but the performance was still significant for the Dallas Stars draftee. With the flawless night, Oettinger tied the Terriers’ all-time record for total shutouts, 13.
“It feels good,” Oettinger said regarding the win. “The guys did a great job in front of me.”
The River Hawks played for their lives Saturday night. As Friday’s rematch progressed, it became clear that the second contest would not be a repeat of the first.
“It was a lot different than last night,” O’Connell said.
After being held goalless in Game 1, the River Hawks came out flying in Game 2, scoring their first goal of the series in less than four minutes after the opening puck drop.
On the game’s first power play, defenseman Chase Blackmun received a pass from forward Reid Stefanson and unleashed a seeing-eye rocket from the point that found its way through a crowd and into the Terrier net.
“It’s easier leading than chasing the game,” said UML head coach Norm Bazin, emphasizing the importance of getting on the board first.
BU reacted well to the early deficit, coming closest on a drive from Farabee that clanked off the iron. However, despite the Terriers’ energy, the game’s next goal would come for the hosts.
Just past the period’s halfway point, BU conceded two overlapping penalties. The Terriers survived the majority of the five-on-three situation, but in the final seconds, forward Connor Wilson fed forward Ryan Dmowski in front, who pounded it home to make the lead two.
“I think the referees got involved early,” O’Connell said regarding the four penalties called against his team in the first period.
Sixty-three seconds after the Dmowski goal, the River Hawks would pot a third, equaling BU’s total from a night prior in just 12-and-a-half minutes.
Dmowski was a provider on this occasion, moving the puck to linemate Charlie Levesque, who then set up forward Kenny Hausinger to fire it in from the right of BU junior netminder Jake Oettinger.
The Terriers would manage a few threats late in the period but could not cut into the deficit through the opening 20 minutes. Despite holding an 11-9 advantage in shots on goal, the visitors trailed 3-0 going into the first intermission.
“I thought we outplayed them in the first period to be honest with you,” O’Connell said.
If three first period goals on Saturday after none in Friday’s contest foreshadowed a Game 2 goal-fest, the second period provided all the evidence that the game would, in fact, be a high-scoring affair.
BU kicked things off in the middle stanza with a power-play goal just 1:19 into the frame, as Curry knocked in a slap-pass from Farrance. Junior forward Patrick Harper was awarded the second assist, and BU had their first goal.
The three-goal advantage was restored by UML on a power play of their own two minutes later, with Dmowski taking a pass from Hausinger, slipping through the Terrier defense and picking the corner to make the score 4-1.
“[There were] some catastrophic mistakes on our part defensively,” O’Connell said.
Down by three, BU rallied for two goals in quick succession, both coming with the Terriers gaining the benefit of an extra skater.
The first of the pair came with a delayed penalty called against UMass Lowell and the sixth attacker on for BU. Sophomore forward Shane Bowers set up Crotty to line in a bullet from the left circle, scoring his second goal in as many games.
On the ensuing power play, it was Farabee who found the back of the net on a brilliant individual effort. Carrying the puck into the zone himself, Farabee caught sight of the goal and took advantage, launching the puck to the top shelf to bring the Terriers within one at 4-3.
The offensive storm continued, as UML added their fifth a minute later. With a centering pass from down low, forward Ryan Lohin found Stefanson, who dangled his way across the goalmouth to flip it in and bring the lead back to two at 5-3.
“The guys did a great job of responding,” Bazin said.
With five minutes to play in a five-goal period, the fireworks were not done just yet. UML was given another man advantage, but this time, it was BU who lit the lamp.
Catching the River Hawks power play unit committed too far forward, BU counterattacked through Farabee. The freshman made the most of his third breakaway chance of the night, beating netminder Tyler Wall to pot his third goal of the series and again make the deficit one point.
“It was a back-and-forth affair,” Bazin said.
By the time the dust settled on a wild middle 20 minutes, the Terriers were still down 5-4 but held the momentum with four second-period goals and 25 shots on goal to Lowell’s 18.
While the tides had turned in BU’s favor in the second, UMass Lowell was quick to squash the visitors’ excitement with their sixth tally in the opening minutes of the third.
After a long attempt by defenseman Mattias Goransson took a deflection in front, the puck fell favorably to forward Nick Master, who slid it past Oettinger to put UML up 6-4.
“That ended up being a little bit of a back-breaker,” O’Connell said of the Master score.
Holding the two-goal cushion in the third, Lowell turned their focus to the defensive end, quieting the Terrier attack as time ticked away. BU pushed for a final flurry with the net empty, but Wall and the River Hawks’ defense were flawless when it mattered.
“You can’t keep coming back,” O’Connell said in regards to his offense stalling in the game’s latter stages.
The game would get scrappy in the waning minutes, with multiple scuffles breaking out on both ends of the ice. BU senior forward Bobo Carpenter took the worst of the late physicality, getting shoved into the boards from behind with less than 10 seconds to play.
“I really have no comment,” O’Connell said on the hit that shook up his co-captain. “A play like that is really not needed in the game of hockey, especially college hockey.”
On the opposite bench, Bazin saw the aggressive play a bit differently.
“I like the emotion,” Bazin said. “It’s nice to see at playoff time.”
When the final buzzer sounded, the River Hawks had outlasted BU to claim a 6-4 victory and extend the series to a pivotal Game 3.
“We live to fight another day,” Bazin said.