By: David Souza
The stakes only get higher for the No. 20 Boston University men’s hockey team as they now enter their final stretch of the season, where nearly every contest is win-or-go-home.
After earning the fourth seed and a first-round bye in the Hockey East Tournament, the Terriers (17-13-4, 12-8-4 Hockey East) are set to host the Connecticut Huskies (15-17-2, 11-12-1 Hockey East) – the conference’s fifth seed – in the Hockey East Quarterfinals this weekend. The best-of-three series will see the winner move on to the Hockey East Semifinals at TD Garden, while the loser’s season will come to an end.
The Terriers and the Huskies have squared off three times this season, with the teams each earning a 1-1-1 record. Two of the contests featured tight games at each squad’s home rink as the Huskies earning a 5-4 overtime victory at home in mid-February, while both teams skated to a 2-2 tie at Agganis Arena back in late October. The lone contest decided in regulation came on October 21 at UConn’s XL Center, where BU pumped half a dozen goals past Adam Huska (26 saves) in a 6-3 win.
That trio of contests nearly bookended each team’s seasons, offering both coaches looks at how their opposition has developed.
“They play a big, strong, heavy game up front, their defensemen are extremely mobile, they break the puck out quickly, and they do a great job of protecting their goaltender too, eliminating second chances,” said UConn coach Mike Cavanaugh in a conference call earlier this week. “I thought they were still the same, consistent Boston University team that I’ve been competing against for the last four years.”
Terrier head coach David Quinn similarly praised the Huskies in that Tuesday morning conference call, but told of how he’s seen UConn improve as the season has progressed.
“They’ve gotten better and better as they year’s gone on, no question; they were probably the hottest team in our league at the end of the year,” Quinn said. “They’ve got good players, they’ve got good goaltending, they’ve got good size and speed on the blue line, they’ve got one of the best players in the country in Max Letunov, and you can just see them getting better and better.”
Quinn and his team got a close-up look at Letunov back on February 16, when the former BU commit delivered the overtime winner for UConn halfway through the sudden-death frame. In that contest, Letunov set up a pair of goals in the third period to bring the Huskies back from a 4-2 deficit before his backhander from the high slot lifted UConn to their seventh straight victory. Letunov also had a pair of assists back on October 20 in the 2-2 tie with the Terriers.
While Letunov has been the catalyst for the UConn offense against the scarlet and white, the Terriers have also relied on a junior forward to lead them against the Huskies. Top scorer Bobo Carpenter has exploded offensively against UConn this season, striking for six goals and two assists in the three games.
“I think David Quinn does a phenomenal job of getting his players ready to play,” Cavanaugh said. “Carpenter was good against us at the beginning of the season, and good against us at the end of the season. We might have been fortunate to catch them without [Jordan] Greenway the last time we played them.”
With Greenway back from his stint in the 2018 Winter Olympics, the Terrier offense finally returns one of its most intimidating forces. The physicality and net-front presence that Greenway brings has been instrumental at making BU successful on offense, and was something the Terriers missed in their last outing against UConn.
And while the BU offense will not be as complete as it was at the end of December – with sophomore Patrick Harper out for the season with an undisclosed injury – Greenway’s return definitely gives the scarlet and white a needed edge.
The series is set to get underway Friday night at Agganis Arena 7:30 p.m. for game one. Game two is slated for Saturday at 7 p.m. and – if necessary – game three will start at 5 p.m. on Sunday.