Saponari’s game-winner clinches playoff spot, 5-4 win for Terriers

By Scott McLaughlin/DFP Staff

Sophomore forward Vinny Saponari secured the Terriers a spot in the Hockey East playoffs when he one-timed home a beautiful pass from junior defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk for the game-winning goal in BU’s 5-4 win over Northeastern at Agganis Arena on Friday night.

With less than 10 minutes remaining in the game, Shattenkirk carried the puck from the right halfwall toward the goal line before threading a pass through a slew of bodies to Saponari on the left side of the slot. The Georgia native didn’t get everything on the shot, but it was enough to get it by freshman goalie Chris Rawlings (28 saves).

“Somehow Shatty passed it through like four or five guys right on my tape,” Saponari said. “Luckily I got enough wood on it to make it by. It just squeaked in, so a little bit of luck there.”

Although BU (15-15-3, 12-12-2 HE) clinched a playoff spot, it can still finish anywhere from third to eighth entering the final day of the regular season. The Terriers can clinch home ice with a win at Northeastern (16-15-2, 11-13-2) and either a Maine loss or a UMass-Lowell loss or tie.

“It’s unbelievable what’s going on in this league right now,” BU coach Jack Parker said. “It’s nice to know we’re going somewhere. If everything falls right tomorrow night, we could wind up with home ice. But at least we know we live to play another weekend.”

After scoring just two goals in their first two games combined against the Huskies, the Terriers exploded for three in the first period. They took the early lead 3:46 into the game when sophomore forward Chris Connolly threw what appeared to be a harmless shot on net from the left wing. But Rawlings allowed the rebound to squirt into the slot and freshman forward Wade Megan was able to bang home the bouncing puck.

After freshman defenseman Jake Newton tied it for Northeastern four minutes later, BU responded a little more than a minute later. Senior forward Zach Cohen worked his way to the front and snuck a shot by Rawlings for his 14th goal of the season, tying him with junior defenseman Colby Cohen for the team lead.

The goal was initially waved off because referee John Gravallese had blown his whistle thinking the net had come off its moorings, but upon further review, it was ruled that the net never came off. The overturn drew the ire of Northeastern coach Greg Cronin.

“The whistle blew. He waved the goal off clearly because he said he blew the whistle,” Cronin said. “I don’t understand it –– how it went from the whistle blew and the puck didn’t go in to the net wasn’t off the mooring.

“I’ve never heard that before. I thought when the guy blows the whistle –– we all know in the Lowell game in the finals last year, the whistle trumped whatever happened afterwards. I didn’t know that after you blow the whistle, you can actually revisit the play.”

The Huskies knotted the game again with just less than four minutes to go in the period, but the Terriers once again answered right back. With 2:42 left, freshman forward Alex Chiasson intercepted a pass in the right corner and threw the puck out front. After Megan’s initial attempt was denied, Connolly found the loose puck and quickly flicked it past Rawlings for his ninth goal of the season.

“The difference between this semester and last semester is definitely the fact that we’re able to bounce back when other teams score,” Connolly said. “We got a little caught up last semester getting nervous and not having much confidence when other teams scored. We were wondering when they’re going to start pouring it on. This semester, we’ve been playing with a lot of confidence and not worrying if they scored.”

BU appeared to be taking total control of the game in the second, registering 16 of the period’s first 20 shots and extending its lead to 4-2 when sophomore defenseman David Warsofsky launched a laser from the right point that beat Rawlings glove-side.

But Northeastern came storming back with two goals in 29 seconds to tie the game heading into the second intermission. Sophomore forward Mike McLaughlin struck first with a wrist shot that flew by sophomore goalie Kieran Millan’s (21 saves) glove for his first goal of the season.

Before public address announcer Jim Prior was even done announcing the official scoring, Newton collected a loose puck in the slot and introduced it to the twine for his second goal of the night to make it 4-4.

But just like letting the Huskies pull within one didn’t faze the Terriers on Friday, neither did letting them tie the game.

“We weren’t really worried,” Connolly said. “We knew we had been playing really well up until that point. We still had a tied hockey game. We still had a very realistic chance of winning the game. … We knew we were going to be fine.”

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