BOSTON — New Hampshire freshman Grayson Downing scored 2 minutes into the second overtime to give New Hampshire a 3-2 win over Boston University at Agganis Arena Friday night. The win gives UNH 1-0 lead in the best-of-three Hockey East quarterfinal series.
Downing stuffed a shot past BU goaltender Kieran Millan after a turnover allowed him to move out in front of the senior netminder uncontested. The goal was his 10th of the season.
What I Saw
- The Terriers were very sloppy in their own zone. Ultimately, it didn’t hurt BU, with Millan bailing them out on more than occasion. Turnovers on breakouts or on other clearing attempts led to several UNH scoring chances, while a mishandle and some bad bounces led to Downing’s game-winning goal. Ryan Ruikka and Alexx Privitera were the worst offenders for the Terriers. Both players turned the puck over several times with either careless player or indecision. Most BU players looked legless, but the careless mistakes created chance after chance for the Wildcats. UNH’s aggressive two-man forecheck caused some of the BU mishaps, which is going to happen. Eliminating the mental errors that caused the turnovers is a necessity for the Terriers if they plan push this series to a third game.
- Casey DeSmith played Friday’s game like it was an early October battle against an Atlantic Hockey team. The freshman’s play since taking the No. 1 job from Matt Di Girolamo in January has propelled UNH on its current run. When he seized the No. 1 job, UNH’s playoff status was in serious jeopardy. That changed quickly when DeSmith became UNH coach Dick Umile’s first choice. Offensive production picked up, as did the Wildcats’ execution defensively, but DeSmith was the one notable change. UNH outplayed BU for long stretches on Friday, but the Terriers created several quality scoring chances. DeSmith handled most of the opportunities with ease, offering very few rebounds to the Terriers. Entering the season, many credited the Wildcats with having an experienced goaltender — an asset that reveals itself this time of year. Experienced goaltenders play with poise. They’re calm. With a senior in net, they didn’t have that. They do now, and it’s a freshman doing the job.
- BU played with effort and grit, but they were missing something. After the game, BU coach Jack Parker seemed pleased with his team’s mindset, noting that they just looked “legless.” Many of the puck battles BU lost extended UNH possessions in the Terrier zone, sucking even more energy from the already lacking BU players. As the game progressed, BU’s problems grew worse, creating even more scoring chances for UNH. Again, Millan was there to bail them out throughout, but all three UNH goals could’ve been prevented with a little more energy. Heading into tomorrow’s game, the Terriers will need to find some energy. With Friday’s double overtime loss and Saturday’s 4 p.m. puck drop, BU won’t have much time to do that.
What I Thought
- Matt Nieto was BU’s best player. The sophomore’s excellence is nothing new. Earlier this week, CHN named him to its Hockey East Second Team. Aside from his impressive point total, his speed helps him drive puck possession for the Terriers. The few stretches that BU controlled came with Nieto and linemates Alex Chiasson and Chris Connolly on the ice. In the second period, Nieto used his speed and vision to create BU’s first goal. After beating UNH defenseman Trevor vanRiemsdyk to a puck, he instantly turned and fired the puck to Chiasson streaking through the slot. The junior finished the play with an equally impressive forehand-backhand move, but Nieto’s skill created the opportunity ultimately. Defensively, his hockey IQ bailed BU out on several opportunities. He was one of the few Terriers that won puck battles on Friday night, and he did so consistently.
- UNH looked like a completely different team than it was midway through the season. Propelled by the confidence gained with competent goaltending, the Wildcats’ trademark offensive aggressiveness has returned. The goal totals aren’t the same as they usually are, but UNH is generating offense. Friday night, UNH played a BU team it was 0-3-0 against this season. All three of those losses came during the Wildcats’ horrendous first half. BU seemed surprised by UNH’s aggressiveness early on. No adjustments came from BU, especially when trying to deal with their opponents’ relentless forecheck and puck pressure. The system hasn’t changed, but the results have for UNH. The difference, it seems, is confidence.
- Kevin Goumas’ role in UNH’s lineup has evolved in the last two seasons. His offense came late in the 2010-11 season, his first in Durham. But he’s bringing some grit to the Wildcats’ lineup, pestering opposition wingers and defensemen into turnovers and bad decisions with the puck. Against the notably lackluster Terriers on Friday, Goumas’ aggression on the forecheck helped create turnovers and generate scoring chances. The forward certainly has some skill, but playing with Stevie Moses and Nick Sorkin, there’s enough that already on his line. At 5-foot-8, he’s the smallest member of UNH’s top line, but that doesn’t prevent him from battling. In the second period, Goumas took on Chiasson, one of the league’s best power forwards, along the boards. Seeing the feisty Goumas traded shoves and the occasional jab with Chiasson caught a few BU fans offside. Those that have seen enough of UNH, though, don’t expect anything less.
What They Said
“We played as well as we could’ve played. We’ve had difficulty scoring goals. (Downing’s goal) is the kind of goal you’re going to have to score. We had some tough bounces, but we had some great looks throughout the night that didn’t go in. That one did. The guys are playing hard. This was one of our better games. I’m very pleased with the way the team played. We knew that coming into this games, everyone is even. We’re as good as anybody right now. We’ve still got a game to go. We want two (wins), so whatever it takes.” — UNH coach Dick Umile
The Wildcats were clearly the better team on Friday, but BU had some chances to end the game in the overtime. With a 1-0 series lead, UNH is in good position to advance the Hockey East Semifinals, but they still need one more win. Had UNH lost on Friday night, it may have been difficult to recover given their dominance Friday night.
What They Didn’t Say
Thirty-nine years on the job has made Parker a confident coach. It’s difficult to say the Terriers haven’t been in the position they’re in now before, since BU has played three consecutive three-game quarterfinal series. However, he has to be worried about his club’s ability to come back from this loss. The part of their game missing on Friday wasn’t something he can fix easily. His players simply looked tired. They worked throughout and battled, but UNH just outskated them. At times this season, BU has looked disinterested. That wasn’t the case on Friday. They just didn’t have it.
What Else You Should Know
- Game 2 of the series is at 4 p.m. Saturday afternoon at Agganis Arena. The game can be seen live on NESN.
- BU redshirt freshman Yasin Cisse missed Friday’s game with a shoulder injury, and he will be out of the lineup for the remainder of the weekend as well.
- One more win will send UNH to the TD Garden for the second consecutive season after missing out the previous two seasons.
- This season marks the first time UNH has played the Hockey East Quarterfinals on the road since the 1995-96 season.