BU One Game Away From Semifinals With Win
By Pat O’Rourke
BU News Service
A playoff bye can be a blessing as well as a curse.
The optimist says its a reward for being among the elite, a well-earned, much-needed rest after the grind of the regular season. The pessimist says the layover causes rest to set in.
The signs of rust were nowhere to be found Friday night for BU, playing their first game in two weeks after earning the first round by after finishing in first place in the Hockey East. The Terriers rode a strong start to a 6-2 defeat of Merrimack in the opening game of their best-of-three quarterfinal series at Agganis Arena.
“You always wonder how you’re going to react to having two weeks off,” said BU head coach David Quinn. “I thought we responded well. We were ready to go from the drop of the puck. I thought we had the grit element and toughness that we’re going to need to have success against [Merrimack].”
The Terriers stormed out of the gates in the opening period, landing the game’s first seven shots. Merrimack didn’t land its first shot on BU goalie Matt O’Connor (17 saves) until the 7:03 mark of the first period, when Merrimack forward Ben Bahe landed a shot from the neutral zone. BU outshot the Warriors 18-4 in the opening 20.
Despite BU carrying the play in the first period, the teams went to the locker room tied, 1-1. Merrimack drew first blood when Jace Hennig scored his first of two goals on the night at 8:11 of the period. Matt Grzelcyk lost the puck in the right corner before Vinny Scotti took the puck behind the net, dishing it to the freshman left winger. BU responded 1:33 later, when Robbie Baillargeon scored his third goal of the season on a feed from Brandon Fortunato.
With Brandon Hickey getting the secondary assist on the goal, it was the first of five assists for the Terriers blueliners, who were well-involved in the offensive flow all night.
“Merrimack backs off, especially in the neutral zone, so they give the defensemen a lot of space,” said Evan Rodrigues. “We were trying to use the points and try to get to the front of the net, and they were obviously doing a great job of getting through.
The Warriors gave the Terriers all they could handle in the opening minutes of the second period. Merrimack had two major scoring opportunities that were negated with big saves from Matt O’Connor, who drew a goalie interference penalty on the latter opportunity to put BU on the powerplay and swing the momentum back in the favor of the home team.
“You look at the shots, you don’t think your goalie had much to do with the game, but timing’s everything,” said Quinn. “It’s 1-1 and he makes a big save early in the second to keep it a 1-1 and allows us to get up, 2-1, we kind of built the momentum off of that.”
The Terriers didn’t connect on the ensuing powerplay, but they did find the net soon after, when Danny O’Regan scored his 20th goal of the season at 7:23 to give the Terriers the 2-1 lead. Rodrigues picked up the assist on the score, making him the first BU senior to score 50 points in a season since Chris Drury tallied 57 (28-29) back in 1997-98.
It was the first of four goals by BU on the period, three of which came from the top line, which combined for a 4-4–8 scoring line on the night. The fourth came with 1:11 remaining in the frame, when Matt Lane scored his seventh goal of the season.
A powerplay goal by Eichel at 9:23 of the third wrapped up the scoring for BU. Henning’s score 57 seconds later for Merrimack closed the book on the box score.
A win on Saturday will push the Terriers into the Hockey East semifinals next weekend at the TD Garden. BU was last there in 2013, when they lost to UMass-Lowell, 1-0, in the conference title game. The Terriers haven’t missed the trip to the Garden ice in back-to-back seasons since 1998-99.