Pluses and Minuses: Plenty falters for BU men’s hockey as team’s quest for Hockey East title ends

LOWELL — At the Tsongas Center on Saturday, things got bad quickly, and then they got even worse. The No. 8 Boston University men’s hockey team needed a win to advance in the Hockey East Tournament, after losing the first game of the best-of-three series on Friday to the No. 11 University of Massachusetts Lowell.

It was never really a contest. Lowell took a 3-0 lead by the end of the second period, and added two more goals in the final frame for a 5-0 final result, sweeping BU and ending the Terriers’ chances at a Hockey East Tournament run.

Usually we say we have some things we like, things we didn’t like — but tonight, there really wasn’t much to like. So really, here’s a breakdown of a whole lot of things we didn’t like — and here’s another take of just how wrong things went, brought to you by Judy.

Minuses

Boyle was good…but then there’s also BU’s offense
Credit to Lowell’s goaltender, Kevin Boyle, who secured a new school record for shutouts in a single season when he got his seventh of the year on Saturday.

Boyle attributed his teammates for blocking shots — BU had 70 shot attempts, but only 24 of them went on net, the lowest total for BU since a 4-2 loss to Michigan on Nov. 21. For the most part, save for “a pretty good flurry right before they made it 3-0” that BU head coach David Quinn noted, it never felt like BU was ever threatening.

Only one player had more than four shots — freshman forward Ryan Cloonan, who hasn’t had more than two shots on goal since January — and BU’s usual suspects shooting-wise, seniors Ahti Oksanen (one shot on goal Saturday), Danny O’Regan (three SOG) and Matt Lane (three SOG), were kept relatively quiet.

BU’s goaltending decision
After Lowell’s second goal, Quinn decided to pull starting goaltender Sean Maguire and replace him with sophomore Connor LaCouvee, which had all three of us sort of scratching our heads — and a lot of the BU fans near where we were sitting were scratching their heads, too.

Quinn referred to the decision as a “gut feeling.” While neither of the goals was exactly the most difficult test Maguire has had to face this year, it seemed a bit odd at the time. But it’s not like BU had any goals by the end of it, so it didn’t really matter by game’s end whether the goalies combined to give up only two goals or five goals.

And it’s not on us really to say whether Maguire would have given up the three subsequent goals that LaCouvee did once he took over, or if Maguire would have settled down after that. There’s no real reasonable way to predict that. But at the time, it was a questionable move, at least to me, that you’d pull the guy who’s been the one to overwhelmingly keep you in games all season long. 2-0 isn’t an insurmountable deficit to overcome — BU’s done it before — so it still seemed pretty premature, gut feeling or not.

The team mentality — missing?
Something the three of us have admired in our time covering college hockey is how well UMass Lowell always seems to do for having, relatively speaking, not a whole lot of “star power,” at least in the traditional sense.

And a pretty interesting point was brought up Saturday, so I think it’s worth discussing in terms of comparing BU to Lowell. Quinn noted that the River Hawks “may not have stars other than their goalie, but a lot of good players.” Which, if you’re looking at awards, recognition, et cetera, is true — just one of Lowell’s players is drafted, and he, Evan Campbell, a fifth-round draft pick by the Edmonton Oilers, hasn’t played since Feb. 12.

Otherwise, you’re looking at a team that has made the NCAA Tournament three times in the last four years — just barely missing out last season after losing the Hockey East Championship in 2015 — and Norm Bazin has a career 122-55-18 record through now his fifth season with the River Hawks.

Bazin seems to have it figured out. His teams play hard and earn every bit of success they’ve attained. They’ve built success over the years, without that “one guy” — save for goaltender Connor Hellebuyck a few years back and Boyle this year — leading the charge.

BU has good players, but they haven’t gotten the consistent, top-to-bottom effort that they need in order to succeed. O’Regan, Oksanen, Grzelcyk — all good players, obviously, but they’re not going to change the game for BU that a guy like Jack Eichel did.

And that’s what successful teams do — when they don’t have that star, they compensate for it with well-rounded, motivated, solid production from all four lines. While early in the year it seemed like the scoring might be spread out a bit for BU, that hasn’t been the case as of late. There are a few pretty good guys leading the way, but none that break through, and significantly more guys lower on the lines that have yet to step up.

You can have all the good players you can recruit — all the draft picks or projected picks, all the former national team players — but if that doesn’t translate to a full-team mentality, then it’s just meaningless talk. No one’s stepped up as a star to carry this team, and they haven’t played as enough of a team to compensate for that.

Another trophy out of reach
BU is, essentially, mathematically in the NCAA Tournament, per College Hockey News’s Pairwise Probability Matrix. So it’s not as if the loss Saturday was season-ending, but it’s certainly a gut punch to the extent that the Terriers don’t have a shot at some form of hardware, beyond an improbable run to the national title game.

Though, as Quinn pointed out in his presser, Providence got knocked out in the quarterfinals of last year’s Hockey East Tournament, and…well, we all know how that turned out. So theoretically, it’s not impossible for BU to pull off some sort of deep championship run.

But this entire weekend, nothing felt within BU’s reach. If you want to look back to the University of Massachusetts  Amherst series, too, that wasn’t exactly pretty, either. This team, frankly, has done very little in recent weeks to instill much confidence going forward.

Pluses

We’re lucky to have a great photographer
Our go-to photographer, Maddie Malhotra, got some really awesome pictures from tonight, which you can check out in the gallery here.

Otherwise, it’s quite difficult to take any positives from this game. That was really, really, really ugly.