LOWELL — Both head coaches after Game 1 of the Hockey East Quarterfinals agreed that the contest came down to one thing — special teams.
But as Boston University head coach David Quinn noted, the other team executed and his team didn’t.
In what was a tight game throughout the full 60 minutes, No. 11 University of Massachusetts Lowell pulled ahead to stay with two third-period goals, defeating No. 8 BU, 3-2, at the Tsongas Center on Friday night.
The decisive goal for Lowell (22-8-5) came off the stick of forward Adam Chapie, a power-play strike with 4:38 left in the final period.
Bounces one way or the other could have changed the outcome of this one, as things tend to happen in playoff games. Puck luck remained mostly on the side of Lowell on Friday, but we’ll explore the negatives and positives a little further in this Pluses and Minuses.
Special teams fail
It’s noted early in the piece, and for good reason, as the respective power plays were the difference. To briefly summarize, BU (21-11-5) went 0-for-2 with a man up, while the River Hawks did their part on the power play, finishing at a 50 percent clip (2-for-4).
“If you’re going to have a successful power play, you’ve got to be alert, you’ve got to be ready to do a few things,” Quinn said, “and both their goals, we just blew our responsibility.”
We could probably break this down for hours, but, in short, BU’s effort on special teams was just not good enough to win a hockey game, especially one of this magnitude.
But, if you want to read more about the issues on special teams, Sarah has your back in her sidebar.
Lowell’s second goal
Quinn said after the game that he liked the way his team played 5-on-5, and for the majority of the game, BU did indeed play well at even strength. One mishap in the neutral zone, however, proved costly halfway through the third period.
The Terriers pressed in Lowell’s end for most of the third, but the River Hawks took advantage with space in neutral ice, converting on forward Michael Louria’s goal at 11:35.
Louria got the puck through the neutral zone and into the high slot uninhibited, allowing him to wrist a shot in the low corner of the net, under senior goaltender Sean Maguire‘s blocker. Louria said his shot hit a stick in front of him, which helped him score, but any way you put it, a well-placed shot in open space is a tough matchup for any goaltender.
Chances pile up, results don’t
The shots were there but the goals were not. BU racked up 35 shots, including 18 in the final 20 minutes of play, as compared to Lowell’s game total of 19. BU outshot Lowell by six in the first, but skated to the dressing room in a scoreless tie, which Quinn noted was frustrating.
Yet, even as BU pressured goaltender Kevin Boyle in the final minutes, he continued to make all of the necessary stops to prevail in the series opener. In two of the three games that BU has faced Lowell this season, Boyle has limited the Terriers’ to three or fewer goals.
“Sometimes shots can be deceiving but we held a team to 19 shots and we get 35, you might think you’ve got a better chance to win” Quinn said. “But again, it comes back to special teams. And you can’t go 2-for-4 on the penalty kill.”
It could very well be a product of playing good defenses (and strong goaltenders), but BU has scored more than three goals in a game only twice since February, both against last-place University of Massachusetts Amherst.
Scoring three goals should be enough to win you most hockey games, but for a team that scored at a good pace in the first half, goals have been harder to come by over the last two months.
JFK — the good streak
In such a fickle game like hockey, scoring can come and go in bunches. Example — freshman center Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson.
BU’s first-line center proved early in the year to not only have adept passing skills, but he had some scoring touch, with seven goals through Jan. 22. But good streaks can lead to empty ones, and Forsbacka Karlsson felt that through much of February and into early March. The freshman had no goals and just five points in a 12-game stretch lasting from that Jan. 22 game through March 4.
Finally, in the second game of BU’s first-round series with UMass (8-24-4) he broke through with two goals. He continued that scoring against Lowell, tallying BU’s first of the night early in the second period, walking in from the left circle and beating Boyle five-hole on a quick wrister to open up the scoring at 6:22.
“Obviously when you’ve got your first-line center scoring goals, it’s certainly a great sign,” Quinn said. “He’s had a great year, and as we all know, sometimes scoring can be streaky, and he went through a stretch where he was a little bit snakebitten, but obviously two goals in the last game we played and a goal tonight — hopefully that trend continues.”
The silver lining
Moral victories mean almost nothing when it comes down to the postseason, but there is something that BU can at least take some solace in after Friday’s loss.
If there’s one thing Quinn’s bunch has done exceptionally well the past two seasons, it’s that it hasn’t lost two games in a row very often. In fact, since last year, the Terriers have only lost back-t0-back games just once, and that came early on in this campaign on Oct. 27 and 30 in games against the University of Connecticut and Merrimack College.
“It’s been a resilient group, we’re going to have to be very resilient tomorrow night, that’s for sure,” Quinn said. “I liked a lot of the things we did tonight, we’re just going to have to clean up obviously the penalty kill and a few other areas to create offense, we’ve got to go to the net more consistently.”