BOSTON — Massachusetts picked up its first road of the season and thrust back into the Hockey East playoff picture with a 3-2 over Boston University Friday night at Agganis Arena.
Freshman goaltender Kevin Boyle made 33 saves in the win, which halted an untimely four-game losing streak for UMass. While Mike Pereira’s empty-net goal ended up being the game-winner for UMass, Joel Hanley’s strike at 12 minutes, 27 seconds of the third period gave UMass the 2-1 lead that resulted in Pereira’s empty-netter. Alex Chiasson scored with 4.5 seconds left in regulation to cut the margin of victory.
The win lifted UMass into an eighth-place tie with Northeastern with a game in hand. The Huskies fell to New Hampshire Friday night. BU drops to second place, tied with Boston College, which defeated Vermont, 6-1, at 27 points. Both BU and BC trail UMass Lowell by a point, after the River Hawks beat Merrimack, 3-0.
What I Saw
- BU struggled against a UMass forecheck that seemed slightly more aggressive than it normally plays. The Minutemen gave BU the usual 1-2-2 look, but the UMass forwards activated more frequently to pressure the Terrier breakout. Whether it was T.J. Syner or Mike Pereira, the Terriers always had a UMass player on their trail or forcing a bad pass. The remaining UMass players stayed true with their assignments well, maintaing shape to turn the Terriers’ questionable passes into turnovers and potential scoring chances. The option to pressure players always exists for the UMass forwards, but they rarely pursue as much as they did on Friday. Opting to play it more conservative is the easiest way to avoid rushes against more highly skilled teams, but changing it up gave UMass the advantage on Friday.
- BU did the Minutemen some favors by missing the net. Despite UMass’ success at keeping the Terriers a shade off their game, the skill of BU naturally created more than enough chances. The problem, aside from a good game from Boyle, came from the Terriers missing the net on several quality scoring chances. On the power play and odd-man rushes, BU was in good position to test Boyle, but too many shots sailed wide. Most of the Terrier skaters were guilty of this at one point, with looks from Garrett Noonan and Alex Chiasson with the Minutemen leading by a goal standing out.
- UMass won all the big faceoffs. The lone exception to this was the final faceoff of the game, where BU managed to win the draw and get a desperate shot toward the goal with the 4.5 seconds it had. For the most part, though, the Minutemen drove their possession by winning important faceoffs, especially on special teams. Sophomore Eric Filiou has developed into a sound two-way player for the Minutemen and become their top face-off man. The offensive slant to his game makes him an ideal center on power play units, while his hockey IQ is well suited for a spot within UMass penalty kill rotation.
What I Thought
- Like most people who have followed UMass — I started covering them in college in 2007 — for the last handful of years, finishing anything has been a difficult for the Minutemen. Leading BU, 2-1, as the third period began, the collapse just never came. While the Terriers weren’t at their best, UMass deserves some credit for killing three penalties in the period and generally keeping BU off its game. This gets away from the Minutemen nine times out of 10. In their season opener, they let Northeastern tie the game with 2 seconds left in regulation. Oct. 28 and 29, the Minutemen blew 2-0 and 3-0 leads against this same BU team, ending the weekend with just one point. As the season has progressed, building and holding leads has continued to be a problem. UMass held its lead on Friday, and they’ll have to do that down the stretch to play more than seven games the rest of the way.
- BU’s worst game demonstrates that this team is capable playing into April. UMass’ speed and compete level make it a difficult team to play against, and the Minutemen succeed in throwing BU’s game off. That said, the Terriers nearly tied this game, no fewer than 10 times after UMass made it 2-1, but just couldn’t get the puck past Boyle or on the net. BU only registered eight shots in the third period but they attempted 18 total. Three were blocked and eight missed the net entirely. UMass’ forwards succeeded in limiting the time and space of the BU point men. Still, when the Terriers worked the puck past that top layer, they missed from there as well. With all of that said, they lost this game by one goal. Playing one of the most disjointed games in the second half of the season, BU lost a 2-1 game — turned into a 3-2 game with empty-net goals — to desperate team playing one of its best games of the season.
- Friday’s wins means nothing if UMass can’t defeat Providence on Saturday night. The Friars have given UMass fits this season, as a pair of shootouts have ended in a PC win and tie between the two clubs on Jan. 5. PC knocked off Maine Friday night to assert itself in the league race, currently tied for sxith at 19 points with UNH, holding a game in hand over the Wildcats. Both teams need Saturday’s game in Amherst badly. For UMass, a win would put it two points clear of Northeastern for the final playoff spot. At that point, both teams would have six league games remaining. Currently, the teams are tied at 16 points, but UMass holds one game in hand, which it plays Saturday against PC. A win would tie UMass with Northeastern with seven wins apiece. The clubs split their season series, 1-1-1, so the second tiebreaker, wins in conference play, comes into effect if needed.
What They Said
“I told my team before the game and (Thursday) that UMass is the best eighth- or ninth-place team in any college hockey league ever, I thought. The way they play, how hard they play and how quick they are. They came in and showed who they really are tonight. They were completely ready to play and thorough as hell.” — BU coach Jack Parker
“I appreciate Jack thinking that, but I’d prefer if he said we were one of the best top-seeded teams in college hockey. I think he’s had a chance to watch us play a little bit. We’ve hurt ourselves in games. We don’t think of ourselves as a ninth-place team. We’re there and that’s our reality, and we have to play through that, but we don’t think of ourselves as a team that can’t compete with the best teams. Clearly, we can. We just have to play thorough and do the things that good teams do to win games, and the rest of that will take care of itself.” — UMass coach Don Cahoon
Park told the Daily Free Press he was “flabbergasted” at the lack of success UMass has had in 2011-12. Many feel the same way, but others simply think this is UMass’ M.O. A talented club with some big wins that is simply incapable of winning consistently. This has been UMass’ reality in five consecutive seasons. Despite some impressive performances, they lack the mental wherewithal to compete regularly. Regardless, Cahoon and his team understand the situation they’ve put themselves in yet again. The win over BU was impressive, but it won’t mean anything without two points Saturday night.
What They Didn’t Say
Cahoon credited Boyle with a strong effort, but he did not name his starter for Saturday night. Not that this comes as much of a surprise. Boyle, freshman Steve Mastalerz and sophomore Jeff Teglia have rotated throughout the season, and this will likely continue in the final few weeks of the season. Captain Danny Hobbs said after the game that the rotation has not impacted UMass and that his club trusts each of its goaltenders.
What Else You Should Know
- BU is off Saturday night as it prepares for its 22nd Beanpot championship game against Boston College. The Terriers and Eagles will play at 7:30 p.m. Monday evening at the TD Garden. However, the Terriers begin a crucial two-game series with first-place UMass Lowell next weekend a week from Friday in Lowell, before the River Hawks come to Boston for the regular season finale next Saturday. UML crushed BU, 7-1, on Nov. 5 in their first meeting of the season.
- The loss dropped BU to No. 2 in the PairWise, behind UML. Next weekend’s games and the Hockey East Tournament will likely decided the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament.