Commentary

A little puck luck goes long way for BU

Terriers in their first Frozen Four since 1997 after edging UNH

Originally Published: March 29, 2009
By David Albright | ESPN.com

MANCHESTER, N.H. -- What passes for order in the 2009 NCAA Division I hockey tournament has been restored -- for now -- even if it arrived in a somewhat disorderly fashion.

After two days of bracket carnage in the regional round, No. 1 overall seed Boston University held serve by beating New Hampshire 2-1 to win the Northeast Regional and advance to the Frozen Four in Washington, D.C.

[+] EnlargeJason Lawrence
Michael Tureski/Icon SMIJason Lawrence celebrates his game-winning goal against UNH on Sunday.

The Terriers (33-6-4) will be making their first appearance in the national semifinals since 1997 (before it was actually called the Frozen Four) and will see a familiar face in fellow Hockey East member Vermont in the late game on April 9 (ESPN2HD, 8:30 p.m. ET). The first national semifinal a week from Thursday has a pair of No. 4 seeds (did I mention bracket carnage?) facing off when West winner Miami (Ohio) takes on Midwest winner Bemidji State (ESPN2HD, 5 p.m. ET).

"We were very, very fortunate to get that game because of how hard UNH played," BU coach Jack Parker said. "Sometimes you play real hard but the other team plays a little harder."

And sometimes you get a fortuitous call at a most opportune time and then find a way to take advantage of that good luck.

The game winner was scored by Jason Lawrence on the power play with 14.4 seconds remaining after UNH's James van Riemsdyk was whistled for hooking BU's Nick Bonino with 45.7 seconds left. The call gave BU its fourth power play of the game.

BU came into the NCAA tournament on an 0-for-22 power outage with the man advantage. But the Terriers scored their second power-play goal in two nights (they went 1-for-4 against Ohio State on Saturday) when Lawrence gathered a pass from Chris Higgins deep in the left circle and then wheeled toward the net, looking for some room to move amid the chaotic scramble of UNH defenders just outside the crease. As his shot squirted through the crease, UNH forward Jerry Pollastrone, who dove to the ice in an attempt to block the shot, inadvertently knocked the puck in with his left hand.

"It just started to roll up and sort of popped off and I got a good shot," Lawrence said. "I kind of hesitated a little bit, had to get around [a UNH defender]. I believe it went off their guy. I didn't really see it, I lost sight of the puck. I just saw when it went in."

Much of the UNH contingent lost sight of the puck, too.

"I believe Brian [Foster] made the save but it bounced off another one of our players and back into the net," UNH coach Dick Umile said. "We had our chances to win. It was a tough way to lose.

"It's frustrating. We had our chances to win but we didn't finish. It was pretty obvious it wasn't from a lack of effort."

In the annals of NCAA tournament play, it was another tortuous loss for UNH (20-13-5). The Wildcats had staved off elimination Saturday afternoon when they recovered from a two-goal deficit to score the tying goal against North Dakota with 0.1 of a second left and then went on to get the OT winner just 45 seconds into extra time for a 6-5 win over the Fighting Sioux.

Sunday was much more to the Wildcats' liking for most of the game. In front of a partisan crowd of 7,862 at the Verizon Wireless Arena, UNH trailed 1-0 after the first period but then used a dominating middle 20 minutes (10-4 shot advantage) to put the top-seeded Terriers on their heels and tie the game at 1-1 heading into the third.

"UNH took the game completely away from us in the second period," Parker said. "They dominated the play in our zone and on their forecheck. So if anyone dominated play, it was them in the second, but they were only able to come up with one goal because our goaltender played so well."

Lawrence was named the Northeast Regional's Most Outstanding Player, and joining him on the all-tournament team were fellow Terriers Bonino, Matt Gilroy and freshman goalie Kieran Millan, who made 27 saves to improve his record to 27-2-3. UNH's Peter LeBlanc and Kevin Kapstad were also named to the all-tournament team.

"[Millan] was a big factor," UNH senior captain Greg Collins said. "We got the shots on him and he made the saves he needed to. He did a great job tonight. But we were right there with them. The goal this year was to go down to D.C., and to be so close, it's real tough."

UNH outshot BU 28-23, and it looked very much like the fourth overtime game of the 2009 tournament would be needed to decide the third team to advance to the Frozen Four.

Instead, Lawrence -- BU's leading goal scorer with 24 on the year -- received some timely puck luck to send the Terriers to the college hockey season's final weekend, where they will be the prohibitive favorites to win the school's fifth national title and first since 1995.

Except that Parker's club has a losing record against only one school this season: (wait for it, wait for it) Vermont. The Terriers are 1-2 against the Catamounts, but they haven't played each other since late November.

For now, BU can take satisfaction in being the lone surviving No. 1 seed headed to the nation's capital. Whether that still means anything in 13 days remains to be seen.

David Albright covers college sports for ESPN.com and can be reached at espncaa@gmail.com