BOSTON – The college hockey world’s collective focus was squarely on Agganis Arena Thursday night as NCAA bubble team Boston University hosted Northeastern in the only game of the night.
Unfortunately for the Terriers, the Huskies came out with more air in them and picked up a 4-2 win in Game One of the Hockey East quarterfinal series.
“I thought we got beat by a team that was a little more determined and a little hungrier than we were,” BU coach Jack Parker said. “I thought Northeastern played extremely well tonight.”
The Terriers recorded a staggering 19 shots on nine power-play chances, including a 38-second 5-on-3 midway through the third, but managed to slip just one puck by Northeastern goalie Chris Rawlings (37 saves) on the man advantage.
“It was not the type of game we wanted to play,” said Husky coach Greg Cronin, who returned to the bench for the first time following a six-game suspension for violating NCAA recruiting rules.
“The number of penalties we took is not a very healthy way to try and win a hockey game, particularly against a team as talented as BU. So I really felt fortunate that we dodged a bullet there, giving them nine power plays and a 38-second 5-on-3. I think our penalty killing and our goaltending gets a lot of credit for the win.”
Northeastern’s third goal came just 20 seconds after a penalty kill early in the second during what proved to be a critical sequence in the game. With his team leading 2-1 after one, Anthony Bitetto was sent to the sin bin just 33 seconds into the middle period for a hold.
Unlike most of the Terriers’ power plays on the night, when they were able to get shots but not score, BU struggled to even penetrate the offensive zone on this one.
On the first shift after the penalty came to an end, Braden Pimm took a pass in the neutral zone, raced down the left wing and beat Kieran Millan (26 saves) five-hole a moment before two BU defenders rode the Husky freshman into the left post.
“We had a pretty lackluster power play and they came right back and got a goal afterwards,” Parker said, repeating a reporter’s question word-for-word. “The first half of the second period I thought was the worst time for us.”
It took Steve Silva making it 4-1 Huskies six minutes later before BU finally started playing like a team that was fighting for its NCAA life.
“I thought the second half of the second period we played really well,” Parker said. “We had the puck down their zone quite a bit, controlling the puck, getting some opportunities. But it’s still 4-1 at the end of the period. We get one back [in the third]. Too late.”
For the second straight week, Parker voiced his displeasure with the referees missing what he thought was a clear interference penalty on a faceoff that went uncalled and led directly to a goal.
After last Saturday’s 4-3 loss to Northeastern in the regular-season finale, Parker said one of his players was blatantly interfered with on the Huskies’ third goal while trying to get out to the point on a faceoff.
Thursday night, Parker said the same thing happened on Northeastern’s second goal, which was scored by Wade MacLeod late in the first.
“The second week in a row that we give up a faceoff goal off an interference play that isn’t called,” Parker said. “That made it 2-1 and that was tough to watch at the end of the period.”
Still, Parker didn’t blame the officiating for the loss, but rather his team’s inability to match the Huskies’ effort. He said his team will need to play much better in Game Two Friday night if it hopes to extend its season.
“We have to play better in all three zones,” Parker said. “We have to be more determined with or without the puck. We weren’t very thorough tonight with the puck. We weren’t passing the puck as well as we could. We have to battle better for loose pucks. We have to do a lot more of what we did sometimes during the game tonight, but not anywhere near as consistently as we needed to.”