Returning to the University of Massachusetts at Lowell for Game Two of the Hockey East Quarterfinals on Friday night, the Boston University men’s hockey team 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,” said BU head coach Albie O’Connell. “We battled hard.”
The RiverHawks (19-12-5) were playing for their lives on Saturday night, as BU (15-17-4) had taken the series opener on Friday night, 3-0. 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 acknowledged.
After being held goalless in Game One, the RiverHawks came out flying in Game Two, scoring their first goal of the series just 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 freshman forward Joel 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,” said O’Connell, reacting to the four penalties called against his team in the first period.
63 seconds after the Dmowski goal, the RiverHawks would pot a third, equaling BU’s total from a night prior in just twelve 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 Two 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 junior forward Patrick Curry knocked in a slap-pass from sophomore defenseman David Farrance. Junior forward Patrick Harper was awarded with the second assist, and BU had their first goal.
The two-goal advantage was restored by UML on a power play of their own two minutes later, with the red-hot 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,” said O’Connell.
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 classmate defenseman Cam 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 Joel Farabee who found the back of the net on a brilliant individual effort. Carrying the puck into the zone himself, Farabee caught a sight of 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,” said Bazin.
With five minutes to play in a five-goal period, the fireworks were not done just yet. UML were given another man advantage, but this time, it was BU who lit the lamp.
Catching the RiverHawk 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 make the deficit one again.
As Coach Bazin put it simply, “it was a back-and-forth affair.”
By the time the dust settled on a wild middle 20 minutes, the Terriers were still down 5-4, but held the momentum with the four second period goals and 25 shots on goal to Lowell’s 18.
While the tides had been turned in BU’s favor in the second, UMass Lowell were quick to squash the visitors’ excitement with their sixth tally in the opening minutes of the third.
After a long attempt by defenseman Matthias 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,” said O’Connell 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 RiverHawk defense were flawless when it mattered.
“You can’t keep coming back,” said O’Connell 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 ten seconds to play.
“I really have no comment,” said O’Connell 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, Coach Bazin saw the aggression a bit differently.
“I like the emotion,” the UML boss claimed. “It’s nice to see at playoff time.”
When the final buzzer finally sounded, the RiverHawks had outlasted BU to claim a 6-4 victory and extend the series to a pivotal Game Three.
“We live to fight another day,” said Bazin.
The series-deciding matchup will take place on Sunday at 4pm, with the winner advancing to next week’s semifinal at the TD Garden.