By Mitch Fink
On paper, Nick Zabaneh’s playoff hat trick is a shocking outcome.
Coming into BU’s Saturday’s Hockey East quarterfinal against Vermont, the junior was one of the Terriers’ lowest scoring forwards, with five goals and nine points.
But Zabaneh’s three-goal eruption against the Catamounts came as no surprise to Jay Pandolfo or his teammates. Instead, the offensive breakthrough was a quantifiable representation of the way Zabaneh has been playing for weeks now.
“He wants to help the team offensively, and he did that tonight,” Pandolfo said of Zabaneh after the Terriers routed the Catamounts, 7-3, on Saturday. “He’s been, arguably, over the last month, six weeks, our best forward.”
Zabaneh, a speedy, hard-charging skater who thrives in transition, was a matchup nightmare for Vermont’s structured defensive scheme. On his first goal, Zabaneh slipped past Vermont’s burly defensemen on the weak side, finding a wide open seam to tap home Dylan Peterson’s feed.
When Zabaneh picks up a head of steam and gets going, it’s almost impossible for defenders to catch up to him. He’s undoubtedly BU’s fastest player, and he has a case as the quickest skater in Hockey East.
Zabaneh’s second tally was more of the same. Peterson put a shot on net from the wing, and Zabaneh crashed the netfront from the weak side with speed and physicality, scoring the rebound even with Vermont defenseman Eric Gotz draped all over him.
On his third goal, Zabaneh showcased his shot, picking up a nifty drop feed from Peterson, toe-dragging, and firing it blocker side on Vermont goalie Gabe Carriere.
All three tallies were scored in transition.
Zabaneh dealt with limited ice time earlier this year, and he’s played with a revolving door of linemates. Clearly, the connection with Peterson on this new-look third line has worked wonders down the stretch.
“I feel like we think the game really similarly,” Zabaneh said of Peterson after Saturday’s win. “Working with him and reading off him is what I do, and it’s been working.”
Zabaneh was rewarded with the Hockey East Player of the Week award.
To make a meaningful run this spring, the Terriers will need secondary scoring. Matt Brown, Wilmer Skoog and both Hutsons will need to keep up the offensive production, but championships are won with a robust bottom six. Between the third line’s effort Saturday, and the fourth line’s big series against Providence the weekend before, BU will return to TD Garden with its chemistry clicking across the lineup.
- At one point this season, Wilmer Skoog couldn’t buy a goal. Times have certainly changed. Skoog has been all over the scoresheet in the second half of the season, and he’s now only one goal behind Matt Brown for the team lead with 14.
- The power play, which was two-for-four against UVM, seems to have returned to form. BU recorded seven shots on goal on the two power plays it didn’t score on. Another good sign.