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BOSTON — Massachusetts played its best game in months, but that wasn’t enough to pull off a road win against heavily-favored Boston University in Game 1 of their best-of-three Hockey East playoff series Friday night.
Riding a stellar 46-save effort from freshman goaltender Nic Reynard, the Minutemen forced the game to go into overtime with the score 1-1 and very nearly won six minutes into the fourth frame, only to have Terriers freshman Bobo Carpenter score his second goal of the game for a 2-1 BU win.
Between the cold weather and BU on Spring Break, the teams played in front of the smallest crowd in the history of Agganis Arena — just 1,752 fans. Whether it was the lack of fan support, taking the lowest seed for granted, the strong play of the Minutemen, or just the fact that its playoff hockey, BU had a tough time getting going and never did break it open.
“A playoff game if there ever was one,” BU coach David Quinn said. “This time of year, you throw the records out [and] everybody digs a little deeper. I always felt during the course of the season that the two games with them might’ve been misleading. There are times when the puck finds its way into the net, and it happened both times we played them. That certainly wasn’t the case tonight.”
“Pretty good college hockey game from our standpoint,” UMass coach John Micheletto added. “I thought we had a good game plan, good execution, good effort. Had our opportunities. [BU goalie] Sean Maguire made some good saves, particularly early in overtime. Didn’t get the benefit of some replay situations, and ultimately it’s a 2-1 Hockey East playoff game.”
UMass took the lead at 8:07 of the first period when a give-and-go between Steve Iacobellis and Shane Walsh led to Iacobellis driving toward Maguire from low in the left-wing circle. The junior put the puck on his forehand and went around the netminder to bury it.
The Minutemen thought they had a 2-0 lead at 10:56, but the referee apparently lost sight of the puck and blew the whistle before it went on. There was a video review, but to no avail. That would loom large later in the evening.
Ben Gallagher had another great chance to make it 2-0 in the period’s final minute, only to have Maguire make the save.
Playing second-line center for the first time this season, Carpenter tied it for BU at 3:52 of the second period. Matt Lane took a shot and got his own rebound behind the net, dishing it in front for Carpenter’s one-time backhander.
The Terriers had plenty of shots and some good chances later in the period, but couldn’t capitalize.
After a scoreless third period with few great chances, overtime proved to be very exciting. UMass valiantly came out to win and very nearly did so.
Around the 6:15 mark, Ray Pigozzi had a point-blank choice, but Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson wisely hooked him to interfere with the bid. On the delayed penalty call, Pigozzi got the puck again with most of the net wide open, only to have Maguire somehow come up with the save.
“Our goalie makes an incredible save when they’ve got the delayed penalty,” Quinn said. “I thought the game was over, and he makes a phenomenal save to allow us to regroup.”
During the subsequent UMass power play, BU amazingly came up the ice with a shorthanded four-on-one break, only to have Jordan Greenway’s pass over the lone defender bounce over Danny O’Regan’s stick.
While the referees were opting not to blow the whistle with a UMass player down and hurt for several seconds, BU ended it a few minutes later on a rebound goal by Carpenter.
“Definitely we were forechecking pretty hard and got a good bounce as well,” Carpenter said. “[Ryan] Cloonan communicated really well to get the puck behind the net, and then I think [Brandon] Fortunato got the shot off, and then I was the lucky one to get in front of the net and put it in for the win.”
The play was reviewed to determine if a major penalty had led to the injury, but the goal stood. All the same, this marked the best UMass has played in over three months.
“It’s been a while,” Micheletto said. “I’d probably go back to losing to Quinnipiac 1-0 around Thanksgiving. We had some good 60-65 minute games in the first half of the season, but it’s been a while to play at this level against this caliber of team.”
While it was a deflating loss, UMass proved it could go toe to toe with a team that had been them 7-2 and 6-3 earlier in the season.
“We had a bad stretch with injuries, and that probably prevented us from being able to extend our games the way we did prior to Christmas,” Micheletto said. “We were deterred in the second half, but I like where our guys are right now. I’m eager to get back out her at 7 o’clock tomorrow.”
Quinn felt his squad looked a bit lethargic for two periods, but didn’t want to take anything away from a UMass team that played with real heart on top of getting great goaltending.