On this date last year, the Boston University Terriers were 5-10-3. After tonight’s win, they are 14-4-1 and first in the PairWise Rankings.
Freshman Chris Connolly had a career-high two goals while seniors Chris Higgins and Brandon Yip also tallied to lead No. 2 BU to a 4-1 win over Maine in front of 5,767 at Agganis Arena. Kieran Millan stopped 15 of 16 shots for the Terriers, while Robby Dee was the most obvious contributor for Maine with a goal and five shots.
“I thought the first two periods we put people to sleep,” Terriers’ coach Jack Parker said. “We were very fortunate to get a goal late in the first period and late in the second period. That changed the feel of the game, and then I thought we played a terrific third period. I thought we were really smart, really good with the puck, and we got the only goal of the period. Territorially, we had the puck almost the whole third period.”
“BU played a real good game,” said Maine coach Tim Whitehead. “A big thing for us was we didn’t get pucks deep at the right time. The first three goals, we didn’t tip the puck all the way into their end, and it came back into our end and they scored. So our puck management was not what it needs to be against a real good team like BU. I thought our inexperience really showed there.”
Maine did a good job of slowing down the tempo in the early going. After eight minutes of stolid hockey, BU struck first thanks to a pair of freshman, Connolly and linemate Corey Trivino.
“I think Brian Strait turned the puck over as they were bringing it toward the red line,” Connolly said. “About half their team made kind of a poor change, and myself and Corey caught one of their defenseman on a two-on-one, made a nice pass. I kind of threw it toward the net and was fortunate enough for it to go in.”
After getting the puck from Trivino on the left wing, Connolly’s wrister went in high on the stick side of Maine goalie Scott Darling.
Maine managed to tie it up at 18:11 on a power play. Robby Dee fed the puck from the right-wing corner to Chris Hahn at the right point. Millan stopped Hahn’s shot, but Dee grabbed the rebound and backhanded it in up high.
Connolly had another good chance with a minute left in the period, but it looked like the game would go to intermission deadlocked until an improbable BU goal came with 0.8 seconds left in the period.
Darling snared a Higgins shot with just over two seconds left but opted to toss it behind the goal line.
“There wasn’t a lot of time left,” Higgins said. “I got it on the goalie, and I was thinking he would hold it, but obviously he didn’t want a faceoff with a couple of seconds left in the zone. Jason Lawrence didn’t let up on the play, went hard after the puck and threw it out blind behind him to me. I just went hard at the net and it went over the goalie’s shoulder.”
“I asked him what happened and for whatever reason he just let go of it,” Whitehead said. “I think he thought that maybe he throws it in the corner and the clock ticks off and it’s over. Just a freshman mistake, but he’s been tremendous for us. Unfortunately, he makes a mistake there and it goes in the net. That obviously was a tough goal to give up. It made the mountain tougher to climb.”
After another good chance for Connolly early in the second, Terriers’ sophomore Joe Pereira got called for his second five-minute major in the last three games for hitting from behind. Parker deemed it a “terrific call,” saying “We’ve got to protect the players.”
The Terriers’ defensive pairing of David Warsofsky and Eric Gryba struggled to clear the zone during their shift on the penalty kill, and BU was fortunate to escape the major unscathed.
The rest of the period was largely uneventful until Connolly made it 3-1 at 18:53. Kevin Shattenkirk threaded a longish pass to the freshman breaking into the zone. Connolly appeared to be well marked, but his wrister got through traffic, pinging off the stick-side post and in.
“I think he’s probably been our best freshman, though it’s hard to consider him our best freshman when we’ve got [David] Warsofsky back there on defense,” Parker said. “No question he’s had a great first half for us. He centered our first line out in Denver those two nights. He can play center, he can play left wing, he can play power play and kill penalties. He did a great job killing penalties tonight.”
BU wrapped it up exactly halfway through the third period. Luke Popko made a nice pass out of he left-wing corner, hitting John McCarthy racing into the zone. Darling made the initial save, but Brandon Yip took two whacks at the rebound before it went in. Yip has now scored in three straight games, and the Terriers have lit the lamp in 15 consecutive periods.
“I really didn’t like how we played, to be honest,” Whitehead said. “It was a combination of us not being sharp enough in the neutral zone and I thought they defended really well, forced us to turn it over, and capitalized.”
BU had stumbled earlier in the season after being ranked No. 1 in the USCHO poll, so they were determined to be unfazed by their PairWise standing tonight.
“We didn’t even think about that stuff this week,” Higgins said. “We’ve kind of blocked that stuff out. We’re taking it one game at a time right now and trying to play our best hockey.”
BU (14-4-1, 7-4-1 Hockey East) hosts Providence on Tuesday before playing Merrimack on the road and Boston College at home next weekend. Maine (10-8-2, 5-6-1) hosts Bentley and Providence on Friday and Sunday.