The matchup of Maine and Boston University in tonight’s semifinal game proved to be as gritty and hard fought as thought, as the Black Bears and Terriers battled goal by goal for a chance to play in the Hockey East Championship.
Although BU struck early in the first period with a goal from Alex Chiasson at 2:46 when Chris Connolly set Chiasson up and the junior forward was able to throw Maine sophomore goaltender Dan Sullivan off, creating space to slide it past him, an early lead would not prove to be enough for the Terriers as they were knocked off by Maine, 5-3.
“I can’t describe how disappointed I was in our team’s effort tonight,” BU head coach Jack Parker said. “We gave up opportunity after opportunity… we looked like we were afraid to lose. We looked like we were trying not to lose instead of trying to win.”
Maine’s second line, namely Matt Mangene, created early scoring opportunities for the Black Bears, but they were unable to capitalize leaving BU with the lead coming out of the first. Kieran Millan’s goaltending for BU kept Maine down, stopping a wrister from Brian Flynn after covering a backhander from Mangene in the first.
After allowing Chiasson’s goal, the goaltending on the other end of the ice matched Millan’s, as Sullivan recovered well, stopping the next five BU shots and only allowing three of BU’s total 31 shots.
Early on, frustrations mounted as Joey Diamond and Evan Rodrigues were sent to the box for unsportsmanlike conduct, but Maine’s frustrations came to an end just 46 seconds into the second when a BU player fell on the loose puck in front of the goal, bringing it into the net with him to tie it up, 1-1.
Terrier Cason Hohmann had a chance to take the lead for BU when he got an open look on Sullivan, but went just wide and hit the post. It was BU sophomore Matt Nieto who proved to be successful next, taking a feed from fellow sophomore Sahir Gill on the power play with 13:15 left to play in the second.
Maine’s offense continued to create chances for the team, and it looked as though Maine might get the tying goal when the puck was knocked in and then out of the net, but the puck bounced on the goal line before changing direction, leaving Maine down by one. The next time the puck was in the back of BU’s net, it would be the game tier; O’Neill took a shot from the high slot to make it 2-2.
A Maine penalty on Hegarty left the Black Bears shorthanded, and a breakaway from Abbott gave them the opportunity for the go-ahead goal, but Abbott was stoned by Millan who was once again there for the big save to keep BU in the game.
It wasn’t until Maine was on the other end of the penalty, a slashing call on Alexx Privitera, that they’d see the go-ahead goal when Abbott passed back to O’Neill for his second goal of the night, putting Maine up 3-2 at the end of the second. The Black Bears had continued to put on pressure throughout the period, outshooting BU 19-9.
“The big adjustment was the three coaches yelling to shoot from the bench. We just kept it simple. Sometimes they go in, sometimes they don’t. We’ve had some really good chances recently and it hasn’t gone in for us, so we’ve just talked about not getting frustrated,” Tim Whitehead said of his team’s reenergized power play.
Maine held onto their lead until a hit on Abbott from Sean Escobedo left the Hockey East Player of the Year down behind the BU net, and seconds later Nieto saw his second goal of the night to again make it a tied game with 15:57 to play.
With Abbott on the bench, still out following awkward fall resulting from the Escobedo hit, it seemed as though a collapse could be brewing for Maine without their top scorer, who did not return for the remainder of the game. However, Anthoine took Abbott’s place on the power play and yet again changed the lead in this game, capitalizing on the PP opportunity and putting Maine up 4-3 with a wrist shot from the slot that went over Millan’s left shoulder.
“When a guy goes down like that, everybody’s got to step up and I think that’s what we did. One of our guys went down, no matter who it is, everybody tries to regroup and try to feed off of it as much as you can,” Will O’Neill said.
Despite the close score, Maine lead shots on goal 42 to BU’s 17 midway through the third period. The Black Bears held onto the one goal lead deep into the third, when BU’s Clendening went off for holding leaving Maine to finish the game on the power play and Joey Diamond to score the clincher on an empty BU net with 28.7 seconds to play, giving his team the 5-3 advantage and sealing the win.
Maine advances to the championship game tomorrow night in a 2010 rematch against Boston College, who defeated Providence College earlier tonight, 4-2. Despite the loss, the season isn’t over for BU who’ll play in the NCAA tournament and currently sit eighth in the pairwise rankings.
“We’re fortunate enough where our season’s not over, so we just need to put this in the past and move forward and have the right mindset to win something,” Matt Nieto said.