The Takeaway: O’Connor Leads BU Past BC

Posted by: Scott McLaughlin

BOSTON – Jerry York was looking to tie the all-time wins record on his archrival’s ice, but Boston University had different ideas. Led by a 35-save effort from Matt O’Connor, the Terriers beat Boston College 4-2 at Agganis Arena on Friday night. An exciting first period didn’t produce any goals, but the Terriers finally broke the ice 9:04 into the second. Matt Nieto hit the post on a rebound chance, but Garrett Noonan was able to bat the puck out of mid-air and past Parker Milner (30 saves).

BU (8-4-0, 6-3-0 Hockey East) added to its lead seven minutes later when Evan Rodrigues took a pass from Danny O’Regan and fired a laser past Milner’s glove. The Eagles (10-2-0, 8-2-0 HE) answered just 38 seconds later when Johnny Gaudreau kicked a pass to Pat Mullane, who proceeded to beat O’Connor stick-side. Matt Grzelcyk scored what proved to be the game-winner 1:46 into the third when he led a rush down the left wing and beat Milner on a wraparound.

What I saw
-Some great goaltending. The only reason the game was scoreless after 29 minutes was because O’Connor and Milner both made a handful of great saves on quality chances. The Terriers had a couple turnovers in their own zone that could’ve given BC an early lead, but O’Connor was there to bail out his defense and keep it scoreless. Milner’s biggest challenge came against Sahir Gill on a breakaway, but the senior netminder was able to shut the five-hole in time. O’Connor also made several big saves in the third as the Eagles tried to claw their way back.

-BU’s top two lines scored all four goals and played great the whole night. They were matched up against BC’s top two lines — two of the best in the country — all game and managed to win those matchups, a claim not many teams can make. They didn’t so much shut BC’s top six down — no one can do that — as they went toe-to-toe with them and were able to be the aggressors at times and land solid counterpunches. The second line of Nieto, O’Regan and Rodrigues was particularly impressive, as they finished with a combined plus-6 rating.

-The Terriers’ top defensive pairing of Sean Escobedo and Alexx Privitera finished with a total of nine blocks. While the freshman phenom Grzelcyk has stolen the headlines with his fantastic two-way play, these two have quietly been gobbling up pucks all season. They entered the game with 30 and 31 blocks, respectively, while no other Terrier had more than 18. Both Escobedo and Privitera improved throughout last season, and that progress has clearly carried over to this year. It still might be a stretch to label them as a true shutdown pairing, but they’re definitely making it tough for opponents to get shots through.

What I thought
-Both teams seemed to be playing a little cautiously in the first five minutes, but the final 15 minutes of the first more than made up for the slow start. Both teams turned the intensity up to 11 and the rest of the period was a back-and-forth affair with a bunch of quality chances. Both teams’ skill players took over with one good play after another, but O’Connor and Milner both stood tall and made several great saves to keep the game scoreless. The period ended with 32 shots on goal (18 for BC, 14 for BU) and 12 chances from the grade-A area (7 for BC, 5 for BU). Neither team was afraid to get in front of the puck either, as each blocked six shots.

-The Terriers had the better of play for most of the second. They came out firing to start the period and registered eight of the period’s first 11 shots. The Agganis crowd could sense that the Terriers were starting to seize control, and you could tell they were ready to erupt at any moment. BU finally gave them a reason to when Noonan scored. York admitted after the game that the Terriers played the better game and were able to gain a territorial advantage for much of the night.

-This win was big for the Terriers not just because it was against their archrivals and it prevented York from tying the record, but also because they entered the game with an 0-3 record against the two teams ahead of them in the standings — BC and New Hampshire. They had already proven that they were the third best team in the conference, but they had yet to prove that they could beat the top two teams. Considering that their next two games are against BC and UNH, getting a win over one of them should be a huge confidence boost.

What they said
-BU coach Jack Parker: “Must’ve been a fun game to watch. Was it? Seemed like a great game to watch. I thought we played extremely well obviously. The number one team in the nation, and I thought we played a smart game, but also a really smart emotional game. We didn’t get caught out of position very much. We didn’t let our emotions take us all over the place or, up until real late, into the penalty box either. I thought we did a great job killing penalties when we had to.”

-BC coach Jerry York: “I thought BU was better than we were tonight. We had some excellent flurries, and O’Connor made some very good saves. But for the most part, I thought BU had the territorial edge. Their transition game was very good tonight. They had a lot of odd-man rushes off turnovers. So hats off. They played better than we did. I thought they deserved to win the game.”

What else you should know
-The loss ended a 10-game winning streak for BC.

-BU and BC conclude their regular-season series Saturday night at Conte Forum. The teams have now split the first two games of the series, so Saturday’s game could be big for tiebreak purposes at the end of the season. Of course, there’s also the potential for these two to meet in the Beanpot final.

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