The Boston University men’s hockey team knocked off the University of Massachusetts at Lowell in a series-clinching 4-1 win on Sunday at Lowell’s Tsongas Center.
“I thought we played a good hockey game from start to finish,” said BU head coach Albie O’Connell.
Having split the weekend’s first two games, the teams met for a third time on Sunday to determine who would be advancing to the TD Garden for next week’s Hockey East semifinals.
“We’ve been in this situation before,” O’Connell mentioned, referring to BU’s experience in win-or-go-home contests.
Saturday’s Game Two finished on a physical note, as brawls broke out after nearly every whistle late in the contest. Going into Game Three, it was clear that some bad blood had developed between the two teams, making the series-decider all the more contentious.
“We knew it was going to be a really physical and tough game,” said freshman forward Joel Farabee.
Among the aggression in Game Two, senior forward Bobo Carpenter took a hard hit in the final seconds, resulting in a suspension for UML forward Lucas Condotta. Carpenter’s status was uncertain on Sunday morning, but at game time, the captain was right there to take the opening draw.
UMass Lowell opened the scoring 3:37 into Saturday’s Game Two, but BU one-upped the hosts in Game Three, striking first at the 2:34 mark.
Flooding the RiverHawk end, junior forward Patrick Harper fed classmate Chad Krys joining the rush from his defensive position. The assistant captain made no mistake, scoring his first goal of the series to get BU off on the front foot.
“We came out fast and they didn’t,” Farabee said.
The Terriers nearly made the lead two just past the period’s halfway point on a redirection by sophomore forward Logan Cockerill in front that got by netminder Christoffer Hernberg. However, the goal would be disallowed, as Cockerill had tipped the puck with a high stick.
It would not take the Terriers very long after the Cockerill chance to find their second tally, with freshman forward Joel Farabee coming through for his fourth goal of the series.
Krys became the provider on this occasion, moving the puck to Farabee as the clock ticked towards eight minutes left in the frame. Gaining the line, the first-year phenom found space near the right dot, and fired one by Hernberg to double the Terrier lead.
“I saw a little opening,” recalled Farabee. “It felt pretty good.”
Sensing blood in the water, BU threatened on a power play with 3:39 left in the period, with sophomore forward Ty Amonte getting a pair of point-blank looks. While the Terrier man advantage was unsuccessful, BU wouldn’t have to wait long for their third goal.
Junior forward Patrick Curry had set up the two Amonte attempts, and the third try proved to be the charm. 13 seconds after the power play expired, Curry found Patrick Harper, who whipped it home from close range to pot his first goal in six games.
Lowell head coach Norm Bazin had seen enough, and Hernberg was replaced by New York Rangers prospect Tyler Wall, who had been the victorious netminder in Game Two.
“He wasn’t himself,” said Bazin about Hernberg. “You have those days as a goalie.”
The first period defensive effort from BU was just as impressive as the attacking output. The RiverHawks were held to just three shots on goal in the opening frame, with none in the final 12 minutes.
“We didn’t generate enough shots tonight,” Coach Bazin admitted.
With all the wind in their sails, BU took a 3-0 lead into the first intermission. It was sweet revenge for the visitors, who had been stunned on Saturday night by three first period goals from the RiverHawks.
“It was one of the best first periods we’ve had all year,” said O’Connell.
Having built up a three-goal advantage, the Terriers were content to sacrifice attacking threats in order to protect the defensive end. BU only attempted eight shots on target in the second compared to 15 in the first, but also held Lowell to eight in the process.
Junior goaltender Jake Oettinger was rock-solid in the BU net, calmly turning away RiverHawk efforts from all angles. The assistant captain’s finest stops of the frame came on a double-save to first deny forward Connor Sodergren, and then keep out forward Nick Master’s follow-up opportunity.
“I thought their goalie made a couple really good saves,” Bazin noted regarding Oettinger.
While Oettinger’s timely saves were crucial, the Terrier defense was equally responsible for the clean sheet through 40 minutes. BU’s skaters tallied a whopping 8 blocks in the period to match Oettinger’s save total from the middle frame.
“They earned it,” said Coach O’Connell of his Terriers.
With forty minutes in the books, BU’s 3-0 lead still stood, and so did their lopsided shots on target advantage, which had become 21-11.
With the hosts growing desperate as time in the third period ticked away, the RiverHawks found hope with their first goal of the game with 12 minutes left in regulation.
With forward Connor Wilson holding the puck high in the attacking zone, the UML captain zipped a pass to forward Kenny Hausinger between the dots. The junior carried the puck to shooting position and found the top right corner to bring the score to 3-1.
Unfazed by the Hausinger score, Oettinger the skaters in front of him regained their rhythm, keeping Lowell to the lone goal as the RiverHawks turned up the heat seeking a late comeback.
“We couldn’t convert,” said Bazin.
With Wall having vacated the UML crease, the Terriers defenders would deservedly be rewarded in the final minute.
Withstanding RiverHawk pressure, BU gained possession and quickly turned defense into offense. Cockerill led the break towards the gaping net, and unselfishly laid the puck off to a trailing Harper to tap home, completing the three-point night and securing the BU victory.
According to O’Connell, “[Harper] was terrific.”
The teams would skate out the final 52 seconds, and BU emerged victorious – 4-1 in the game, and 2-1 in the series.
“It’s no mistake that we came out and took care of business today,” Farabee claimed after the game.
The series win marked the eighth consecutive season in which the Terriers were able to advance beyond the first round of the playoffs.
“I’m really happy for our players,” said Coach O’Connell. “Really excited for them.”
BU will move on to the TD Garden in Boston for next Friday’s Hockey East semifinals, taking on Northeastern with a spot in Saturday’s tournament championship up for grabs.
“I’d be scared to play the Terriers at the Garden,” remarked Farabee.