In the opener of a best-of-three Hockey East quarterfinal series on Friday night, the Boston University men’s hockey team skated to a convincing 3-0 win over the University of Massachusetts at Lowell.
“It was one of the better games we’ve played in a while,” BU head coach Albie O’Connell said. “It was good to see, especially at this time of year.”
There was little to separate the two teams in the game’s early stages. BU (15-16-4. 13-9-3 Hockey East) claimed the immediate territorial advantage, putting up three shots on target in the first three minutes.
“It was good to get off to a good start,” said O’Connell, whose Terriers were looking to rebound from a 6-0 thrashing at the hands of the University of Maine in the regular season finale last Saturday.
UMass Lowell (18-12-5, 12-8-5 Hockey East) were able to gain ground as the period wore on, challenging the Terriers with physicality on both ends.
“It’s…the playoffs, so they’re going to be a bit more physical,” said freshman forward Joel Farabee.
The back-and-forth play was mirrored by the nearly identical first period efforts of both goaltenders. BU junior Jake Oettinger comfortably turned aside the seven shots against him, while UML senior Christoffer Hernberg stayed perfect against eight attempts.
Hernberg’s greatest scare came in the final seconds of the frame, when BU junior forward Patrick Curry found space in the slot and ripped one that the keeper fought off with the blocker.
“Our forwards were committed to playing the right way,” said Coach O’Connell of his attacking contingent.
Despite the high energy from both sides, the scoreless deadlock could not be broken through twenty minutes, and the teams retreated to the locker rooms still awaiting the opening tally.
“It was a hard-fought game,” O’Connell said.
After a goalless first period, it did not take long in the second for the game to find a score. It was BU who drew first blood, getting on the board six minutes into the frame.
After a pass from sophomore defenseman Kasper Kotkansalo, fellow blueliner and junior co-captain Dante Fabbro fired away from long range. Drifting inside the left circle, Farabee got just enough of his stick on the shot to beat Hernberg with the redirection.
It was the first collegiate postseason goal for the Philadelphia Flyers prospect, who led the team in both goals (13) and points (31) at the conclusion of the regular season.
According to O’Connell, “the first goal was huge.”
With the 0-0 draw broken, the game began to open up. The Riverhawks peppered Oettinger from up close throughout the second half of the frame, but the Minnesota native could not be beat, racking up 21 saves through forty minutes.
“From the drop of the puck, [Oettinger] was locked in,” said O’Connell.
With the ice tilting towards the Terrier end, BU gained a lifeline through the game’s first penalty with two minutes to play in the middle stanza. It would not take long for the BU power play unit to take full advantage and double their lead.
Soaring into the attacking end, sophomore defenseman David Farrance found a soft spot in the four-man Riverhawk defense and drove straight in on Hernberg. With the keeper committed, Farrance fed classmate and fellow defenseman Cam Crotty at the far post, who buried it easily.
The tally was just the fifth of Crotty’s collegiate career, with three of the five coincidentally coming against UMass Lowell. Farrance’s assist also marked his 20th as a Terrier.
“Farrance can really skate,” Coach O’Connell said. “He can make highlight plays.”
BU trailed in shots on goal 21-17 after forty minutes, but the Terriers had their heads held high, taking a two-goal advantage into the second intermission.
“We had a lot of energy, said O’Connell.
BU carried the momentum through to the final frame, showcasing their impressive penalty kill early in the period by keeping the RiverHawks at bay on their only power play opportunity of the night.
“We just played smart,” Coach O’Connell said.
The Terriers nearly sealed the victory towards the halfway point of the period on a breakaway for sophomore forward Ty Amonte, but Hernberg read the forehand-backhand move. Chances proved to be scarce for BU in the third, but the Terrier defense was solid when called upon.
The RiverHawks poured on pressure in the game’s waning minutes, but could not reach the back of the BU net. With several shots finding bodies in front and sailing wide, Lowell managed only four shots on target in the final frame.
“Our forwards and [defense] did a good job of blocking shots,” said O’Connell.
Surviving a final push from the RiverHawks, the third Terrier goal would come with the clock ticking into the minute to play, and the Lowell net empty.
Securing possession in his own zone, Farabee whipped the puck deep into the RiverHawk end. Patrick Curry won the footrace and slid the loose puck across the line, notching his 12th goal of the season and putting the finishing touches on BU’s impressive win.
The Terriers would finish on top 3-0, taking the upper hand in the series.
“We played hard tonight,” O’Connell said.
Jake Oettinger’s 25 saves were by no means his most heroic as a Terrier, but the performance was still significant for the Dallas Stars draftee. With the flawless night, Oettinger tied the program’s all-time record for total shut-outs (13).
“It feels good,” said Oettinger regarding the win. “The guys did a great job in front of me.”
BU will return to Tsongas Center in search of a series-clinching victory on Saturday night. With the hosts on the brink of elimination, the Terriers know that earning the series sweep will not be easy.
“They’re going to be playing for their lives,” said Farabee.
Game Two is set to begin at 7pm on Saturday, with a potential Game Three scheduled for Sunday if necessary.