BOSTON — The first period ended with Boston University leading Providence, 4-0, and, despite a strong effort in the final 40 minutes, the Friars failed to inch much closer, falling to BU, 6-1. The teams will play the second game of a home-and-home series Saturday night at Schneider Arena in Providence. The game will also decide the season series between the two clubs; PC defeated BU, 5-3, on Oct. 14.
Adam Clendening assisted on three of the Terriers’ goals, and six different players scored for BU. Kieran Millan made 36 saves in the game, preventing PC from mounting anything resembling a comeback Friday night.
What I Saw
- Despite the five-goals loss, Providence played a good game. With BU leading 1-0 and eventually 2-0, the Friars went on the power play twice and created plenty of offense. Losing the battle in front of Millan, the Friars failed to capitalize on the second and third chances they generated. Following the game, PC coach Nate Leaman praised his club, pointing to a few tough bounces in front of Alex Beaudry leading to BU’s first three goals. The Friars outshot BU 20-11 in the second period, but a few key saves from Millan prevented PC from developing any momentum. Shane Luke’s goal at 8 minute, 59 seconds of the second period looked to spark the visitors to an extent, but nothing came of it. To say BU won this game solely due to some puck luck isn’t exactly fair to the Terriers. Still, to say the Friars lost, 6-1, because they were bad is equally unfair to the Friars.
- The losses of Corey Trivino and Charlie Coyle seem to have the exact opposite effect on BU that most people expected. There was finger pointing in the immediate wake of their departures, and the New Year’s Eve loss to Notre Dame only exacerbated those concerns. But contributions from every skater have propelled BU into first place in Hockey East and the No. 2 spot in the PairWise. Freshman defenseman Alexx Privitera scored on Friday night and has two goals and an assist since returning from the break. Forced into playing center, Chris Connolly has been brilliant of late. Picking up an assist Friday, the senior now has two goals and four assists in his last four games — all Terrier wins. The list goes on, and the types of contributions BU has received range from goals and assists to winning puck battles and faceoffs. The result, in the end, has been wins, though.
- Lost in the lopsided scoreline was the play of PC backup Justin Gates, who entered the game following BU’s third goal of the first period at 13:23. BU added its fourth on the first shot Gates faced, when Matt Nieto redirected a shot from Clendening into the net. Not until the 4:46 mark of the third period, moments after Daniel New went off on a game misconduct. The senior has played rarely this season, but Leaman was impressed with his effort Friday night. With PC dominating most of the second period, Gates saved the few chances the Terriers created and kept his club in the game until New’s major penalty sent BU to the power play for five minutes.
What I Thought
- BU coach Jack Parker said he was pleased with his team’s effort throughout the game. After a four-goal first period and a 6-1 win, that makes sense. Still, the second period was troubling to an extent. The Friars, aided by some bad BU penalties, outshot the Terriers, 20-11, and carried play for the most part. Now, the 4-0 lead clouded most of that, but if the lead were only 2-0 or even 3-0, Luke’s goal may have affected the game differently. Despite their spot in the standings and series of impressive wins, a genuine lack of a solid 60-minute effort led many to wonder how far BU could really go. It’s now clear that this club is the favorite for a Hockey East Championship and a legitimate contender to win a national title. Friday’s second period was an anomaly for the new-look Terriers, but so was the first. They’re not going to see many four-goal periods, and that could be a problem if they see any more lackluster seconds.
- Clendening’s three assists give him six in his last two games and 11 total points — one goals and 10 assists — in his last five games. Seeing offense from the sophomore is exactly the type of contribution BU needs moving forward. When he arrived on Commonwealth Avenue last season, he came with major expectations, which he lived up to for the most part. Now in the second half of what some think will be his final year in college hockey — the Chicago Blackhawks own his rights — Clendening has become one of the premier defensemen in the country and an invaluable player for the Terriers. On the year, he has two goals and 18 assists, while ranking a plus-11. His play in his last five games have largely contributed to his numbers, and keeping it going moving forward will be the challenge. But Parker is confident he has the best defenseman in the league on his time. At the moment, so do I.
- Despite the questionable effort in the second period, the Terriers are beginning to look like a team capable of winning championships. Kieran Millan is having one of his best seasons, they’re healthy and Clendening, fellow sophomore defenseman Garrett Noonan and their role players are fitting nicely into critical roles. It’s not exactly the star-studded club that won a national title for BU in 2009, but they look like a team with very few holes. They’ll need some luck, and there is certainly a lot of hockey left, but BU is for real and ready for what the rest of Hockey East and the nation have to throw at them.
What They Said
“He’s (given us energy) since the time he’s gotten back in the lineup. He’s been really strong on the puck. He’s played right wing for the most part. We had him played center one game. He got back in the lineup after Christmas, because he was inured the whole first half, obviously we had some guys who weren’t here anymore, so we had to put somebody in the lineup. He’s really taken advantage of it ice time-wise and effort-wise. But it’s nice to see him get a goal — his first goal of the year — and he worked hard for it.”
“He worked like hell to get there and beat the goalie to (the puck). His eyes probably lit up when he saw the goalie coming out, and he just got it over him. Ryan Santana is a real hard-working player. He’s like that every day in practice. It wouldn’t surprise you that he went hard for that puck, because he goes hard for every puck.” — BU coach Jack Parker
Ryan Santana scored BU’s third goal Friday night — the marker that ended Beaudry’s night. A puck kicked out of the BU zone following a Friar power play and drifted down to the PC end. Santana beat two Friar defensemen through the neutral zone, and Beaudry darted from his crease to clear it in hopes of preventing a breakaway for Santana. The forward picked up speed through the zone and beat Beaudry to the puck easily. The goaltender dove in a last effort to knock it away. Santana did the same, winning the battle and flipping the puck over Beaudry into the vacated net.
He missed the entire first half of the season recovering from offseason shoulder surgery, and the issues BU had were in the areas Santana’s excels. Along the walls, fighting for loose pucks, winning races — the things championship teams do well. Santana has added that dimension to the BU bottom-six, and they’re that much better for it.
What They Didn’t Say
Leaman was not asked about the status of leading goal scorer Tim Schaller, who is currently out indefinitely with mononucleosis. Schaller has now missed three consecutive games and will not play tomorrow night. The illness typically keeps players out for at least one month, so the odds of him playing again this month are slim.
What Else You Should Know
- BU and Providence play again Saturday night at Schneider Arena in Providence to close the season series.
- Friday’s win lifted BU into first place all by its lonesome, after BC fell to Maine, 4-3, in overtime. The Terriers and Eagles entered the night tied for first place in Hockey East, but the win gives BU the advantage with a game in hand. On the national picture, BU is still ranked No. 2 in the PWR, behind Minnesota-Duluth. BU captain Chris Connolly’s brother Jack, a Hobey Baker favorite, plays for the Bulldogs. Should their No. 1 and No. 2 rankings hold, it would be more than a little interesting to see the two meet in Tampa a few months from now.
- Providence’s loss made the four through eight spots in the Hockey East standings even tighter than it was entering the night. Before the game, PC was in fifth, a point behind Maine with three games in hand. The loss, along with wins by UMass-Lowell and Massachusetts, drops PC to sixth, one point back of UML and just a single point ahead of the Minutemen. With six weeks left in the regular season, there is still plenty of hockey left. But the playoff rush is already getting very interesting.