By Mitch Fink
TAMPA, Fla. — Boston University head coach Jay Pandolfo didn’t hesitate to diagnose his team’s 6-2 loss to Minnesota in Thursday’s National Semifinal.
“You can’t give that team seven power plays.”
It was that simple.
BU hung tough with the Golden Gophers, but it’s just about impossible to win when you spend more than 10 minutes killing penalties against an offensive juggernaut. Minnesota went 3-for-7 on the man-advantage, and BU was lucky it wasn’t 6-for-7 given the amount of offensive pressure the Gophers were able to generate on the power play.
Once the Terriers settled into the frenetic pace of the game, they learned they could hang with — and outplay — Minnesota’s top-end talent.
BU found ways to hem the Gophers in their own zone, especially in the second period. Minnesota goalie Justen Close was good, but not invincible. BU’s bottom six continued to thrive. At one point in the second, BU was outshooting Minnesota 9-1.
For BU, that makes Thursday’s loss all the more frustrating.
Because if the Terriers had just stayed out of the box, they would have had a chance to win it in the third period.
To beat the Gophers, the Terriers needed to be near-flawless in every aspect of the game. The lack of discipline let them down.
Luke Mittelstadt’s two power-play snipes for Minnesota in the third period felt inevitable. Eventually, after hitting the crossbar, two posts, and countless other close calls, the Gophers were going to cash in on the man-advantage.
The killers were penalties like Cade Webber’s unnecessary charge at the end of the second period, which was not a play on the puck. It was Jay O’Brien’s elbowing penalty in the first period, which directly led to a Minnesota goal.
We’ve seen BU struggle with discipline at times this year. But BU won most of those games, because it could outscore the opponent easily. That might have worked against Maine and UNH, but it won’t work against the best team in the country.
“We have Dom [Fensore] and Lane [Hutson] out there killing penalties for five or six minutes, that’s just too much for those guys,” Pandolfo said. “At the end, the guy made a nice shot there.”
Webber’s penalty, which was called after the second period had concluded, was the biggest backbreaker of them all. BU had just killed off a minute of 5-on-3, and could head back out for the third period tied, 2-2, with the momentum that typically comes after a big penalty kill. Instead, Webber bowled into Minnesota’s Matthew Knies, handing the Gophers a brand new minute of 5-on-3 to start the third period.
A Minnesota goal early in the third period felt like a given, and Mittelstadt delivered two of them.
Is the loss Cade Webber’s fault? Of course not. But his lapse reflected an issue that plagued BU all night long.
And it came back to haunt the Terriers.
- BU really benefited from puck luck in this game. Commesso was at his best, but he was aided by both posts, the crossbar, and other favorable bounces. Had the pucked rolled a bit differently, the game could have gotten out of hand within the first five minutes of the first period.
- Nick Zabaneh returned to the lineup and made a positive impact. His ability to fight through pain and take the ice for the Frozen Four should not be overlooked.
- Lane Hutson was completely neutralized by Minnesota’s defense. The Gophers deserve a ton of credit for that. It would be difficult to find a game this season when Hutson was less effective.
- Besides Lane, BU’s freshmen looked prepared and ready for the moment. Ryan Greene and Devin Kaplan, especially, played well. That’s a good sign for the future.