UNH outlasts BU in double overtime
Eighty-two minutes of hockey. That was all it took for the University of New Hampshire to win its first Hockey East contest against Boston University after three unsuccessful tries this season.
Eighty-two minutes of gut-wrenching, thrilling playoff hockey.
After getting swept by a combined score of 11-2 in three previous meetings, the sixth-seeded Wildcats proved the fourth time was the charm, overcoming a career-high 47 saves by BU’s Kieran Millan to score a 3-2 win in double overtime against the third-seeded Terriers.
Grayson Downing tallied the winner with two minutes elapsed in the second overtime, beating Millan with a wraparound shot to give UNH the upper hand in the opener of this best-of-three quarterfinal matchup.
It was the longest hockey game played at Agganis Arena.
“It happened really quick,’’ Downing said of his goal, which made a winner of UNH goaltender Casey DeSmith (34 saves) in his first playoff start. “I sort of grabbed it and was trying to get to the net and goal line and took it off [Millan’s] stick and just threw it on net and saw the puck go in the net.
“After that, it was good taps on the head.’’
Millan hung his head as he skated off the ice following his bravura performance for the Terriers (21-13-1), whom BU coach Jack Parker said appeared “legless’’ after a flu-like bug went through the team recently.
“I don’t know if we didn’t deserve to win, but UNH certainly deserved to win,’’ said Parker, whose team must regroup in time for Saturday’s 4 p.m. rematch. “They played extremely hard. If it wasn’t for Kieran Millan, I think they would’ve got seven goals tonight.’’
Alex Chiasson gave BU a 1-0 lead at 14:39 of the first period when he converted a crisp centering pass from a hustling Matt Nieto and snapped a backhander past DeSmith. The Wildcats (15-17-3) wrested the lead away with a pair of goals 46 seconds apart when Nick Sorkin tallied the equalizer at 17:20 and Kevin Goumas got the go-ahead goal at 18:06, giving the Wildcats a 2-1 lead at the end of the first.
Kevin Gilroy gave the Terriers a spark when he took a long pass from Alexx Privitera, broke into the attacking zone and skated in on Smith to tie the score, 2-2, at 16:50 of the second period.
The third period, in which Millan made 18 saves, proved a physical test for the Terriers when Ryan Ruikka was sent off for slashing at 8:42. BU’s special teams unit expended a great deal of energy killing off that penalty and was put to the test about five minutes later when Chiasson and Goumas drew matching roughing minors, resulting in four-on-four hockey over the next two minutes.
“From then on, it was like the ice was tilted, I thought, from the end of the period to the end of the game,’’ Parker said. “I thought UNH played well the entire game. We struggled controlling them in our end and we struggled getting away from them in their end.’’
The Wildcats attempted 109 shots, with BU blocking 41 of them.
“One thing we did well was we blocked a lot of shots,’’ Parker said. “But that’s because they had the puck all night.’’
Perhaps because it just seemed that way after 82 minutes of hockey.
“We didn’t have any emotion at all,’’ Parker said. “Once we got in the game and were on the board, we still didn’t have our legs.
“It wasn’t from a lack of effort, but it was like we were skating in sand and they were skating on new ice every shift. It was quite a difference in the overall team speed.’’
Michael Vega can be reached at email@example.com.