Four times this season Boston University and Providence faced each other. Four times they took their games into overtime. The fifth contest, however, proved to be a horse of a very different color. BU seized an early 2-0 lead and blew open the game in the third period, 7-1, to advance to the Hockey East semifinals.
Seven different scorers contributed goals for the Terriers, who got 28 saves from goaltender Sean Fields. It was a classic team win with thorough contributions from all sources in all three zones.
“If you told me either one of us would win 7-1, I would say there must have been an accident on the way down and half the team didn’t show up,” said BU coach Jack Parker. “Everybody gave us a real solid effort both defensively and offensively. If you look at the shot chart, we didn’t give up too many grade A chances tonight and that’s a good club to hold down [their] chances like we did.
“I was real pleased with our thought process of offense off of defense. We kept playing defense and the puck turned over for us and we got some goals.”
Combined with the other results in the quarterfinals, BU will face Boston College in the Hockey East semifinals, a first in the 19-year history of the league. They will face off at 8 p.m. following the 5 p.m. contest between New Hampshire and Massachusetts.
Meanwhile, Providence must hope for the cards to fall the right way in order to secure an NCAA tournament berth.
“It’s a longshot,” said Pooley. “A lot of things have to happen for us to be in. A lot of teams have to get beat.”
The series win marked a first for BU, which had failed to defeat Providence in the three previous Hockey East quarterfinal series hosted at Schneider Arena.
“We didn’t get off to a good start,” said Pooley. “Turnovers were the deciding factor. I thought we had a good second period and battled back, but in the third period they scored a minute and a half in and then got the fourth one.
“They’re a good hockey club. They’re playing very well right now; they’re at the top of their game. They’re peaking for the playoffs.”
Parker had to agree.
“There were times in the first period when we absolutely owned the territory down around their net, but we kind of rope-a-doped ourselves,” he said. “We didn’t score as much as we liked and I think we thought it was maybe going to be as easy in the second period, but it wasn’t. Providence really came out and played harder in the second period.
“We won the first, tied the second — although I thought they had the advantage — and then we got the huge goal to start the third. That was the difference.”
The team’s scoring touch against Nolan Schaefer, whose hot performances down the stretch earned him Hockey East Goaltender of the Month honors in February, served notice that the Terriers will be formidable opponents at the FleetCenter.
“We got 12 goals on the weekend against a goalie that was an All-American two years ago, a fabulous goaltender,” said Parker. “It was pretty nice to be getting goals like that.”
The game provided Fields and Schaefer with opportunities to set personal milestones. Schaefer became the school’s all-time career leader in saves, breaking Bill Miller’s mark (2,839) in the second period. Barring an NCAA tournament appearance, Schaefer finishes with 2,848 saves.
Fields, a junior, recorded his 50th career win, becoming just the seventh Terrier netminder to achieve the feat. He also became the school’s third goalie to log over 5,000 minutes.
After winning the series opener one night earlier in overtime, 5-4, Boston University looked to apply the knockout blow in the first period. The Terriers came out flying, keeping the majority of the early pressure in the Providence zone and forcing Schaefer to make difficult saves on Dan Spang and Frantisek Skladany to keep the contest scoreless.
Ironically, the game’s first tally came while BU was shorthanded. One night earlier Providence had scored on its first two power plays and three of its first four, but this time the Terriers killed the penalty until in its waning seconds Brian McConnell picked off a breakout pass from the PC net and found Mark Mullen alone in the slot. Mullen, who already led Hockey East with three shorthanded goals, added a fourth as he moved in on Schaefer, deked and beat him five-hole.
Barely more than a minute later, the Terriers made it a 2-0 lead on a three-on-two rush. Defenseman Bryan Miller, the defenseman-turned-offensive-hero who scored the game-winner in the opener, jumped up on the rush and from the right wing fed Ryan Priem in the middle. Priem fired from the slot and after Schaefer made the initial stop, the puck caromed in off a Friar skate. John Laliberte was credited with the goal.
BU then displayed a great killer instinct, keeping the puck in the PC end for long stretches until the period’s closing minutes. The Terriers, however, could not capitalize on the pressure and with a minute and a half remaining turned the puck over, giving Mike Lucci a clear break in on Sean Fields. The junior responded with a big save and then several more as the Friars desperately tried to get one back before the intermission. Even with the big line of Peter Fregoe, Devin Rask and Jon DiSalvatore reunited for the first time in over a month, though, the Friars could not narrow the margin.
After a first period in which shots abounded with BU holding the advantage, 15-11, the opportunities tightened up in a scoreless second. The Friars fared much better territorially, but could muster only seven shots to BU’s five. The Terriers had the best of them, a McConnell breakaway at 13:30, but Schaefer made the big save to keep PC alive.
BU broke open the tight game in the third period with five goals including three on the power play.
The backbreaker came at 1:21. Skladany took a John Cronin pass, flew up the right wing and cut hard to the middle at the faceoff dot. Eluding a sliding defender, he faked the pass and then shot against the grain beating Schaefer to the right side.
At 5:34 it officially became lights out when an uncovered McConnell put in the rebound of a Redlihs shot from the left boards.
The Friars ruined Fields’ shutout bid less than two minutes later when Devin Rask put a power-play goal into an open far side, but the Terriers replied with three power-play goals of their own. Sandwiching a Dan Sprang rocket from the point, Brian Collins and David VanderGulik collaborated twice with alternating feeds to open nets on the far side.
With the sobering news of Merrimack goaltender Joe Exter’s serious condition, visiting Boston University fans signed a card of support and encouragement to be sent to Exter care of the school.
Best wishes to Exter. The thoughts and prayers of the college hockey community are with you.