HARTFORD – Staring down a 3-0 deficit late in the third period against the third-ranked team in the nation, UConn struck for two quick goals, sending the XL Center into a frenzy.
Then Jack Eichel took over, putting an end to UConn’s hopes of wins on back-to-back nights against ranked opponents.
Eichel’s breakaway late in the third period set up Danny O’Regan to give BU a 4-2 lead, squandering the Huskies’ chances of a comeback en route to a 5-2 win Saturday afternoon.
Trailing 3-0 with 12 minutes to go, Cody Sharib was in the right place at the right time, tapping a rebound off a Shawn Pauly shot into the open net for his first goal of the season.
One minute later, Corey Ronan got his second goal of the year, putting a pass from Patrick Kirtland past BU goaltender Matt O’Connor. It was the second goal of the season for the freshman, who nearly leapt out of the XL Center when the puck hit the net.
“When it went 3-0, I was really proud of the effort our kids had,” head coach Mike Cavanaugh said, “because you’re playing the No. 3 team in the country and they score on third shift, or second shift of the third period. I think a lot of teams may wilt or may fold, and we didn’t. We came right at them.”
Ronan’s second goal of the season was much like his first in the win over Quinnipiac on Oct. 21. Patrick Kirtland got to the puck in the corner and fought off Boston Bruins draft pick Matt Grzelcyk, finding enough space to feed the puck to Ronan, who was instinctively driving to the net.
Ronan credited his ability to get open for chances to his linemates: Kirtland and Ryan Tyson. They do the dirty work for him, he said, and that gets him in spots to score goals.
“They’ll do whatever it takes to get that puck, especially in the corners,” Ronan said. “Kirts made that play happen. I was just in front, and Kirts made an unbelievable pass.”
The chance at completing the comeback died nine minutes after Ronan’s goal. Eichel jumped on a loose puck in the neutral zone and used his speed to get past every UConn skater.
Nichols, who finished with 25 saves, did well on the freshman’s chance, sticking out a skate to push it away, but the Huskies did not recover to cover O’Regan, who tapped it in uncontested.
Eichel had two assists on the day, also getting a helper on Ahti Oksanen’s power play goal that opened BU’s scoring account seven minutes into the first period. In 10 games, the consensus top-two pick in next year’s NHL Entry Draft has seven goals and 12 assists for 19 points.
As unstoppable as Eichel can be at times, weaving and bending his way through space that most players cannot see, UConn was able to put a lot of pressure on him and limit his chances to threaten Nichols and the defense.
“There’s a reason why he’s going to go first or second in the NHL draft. He’s a special player,” Cavanaugh said. “We had done a pretty good job on him. Shawn’s line played him all night. He had the one assist on the power play…Don’t get me wrong, he was certainly a factor in the game, but we had done a pretty good job on him up until then.”
UConn fell behind partly because of an inability to stop the Terriers on the power play early. BU finished 2-for-6 on the power play, scoring on their first two chances of the game, hooking penalties against Johnny Austin in the first period and Kasperi Ojantakanen in the second.
The Huskies had four power plays, failing to convert on any of them. UConn’s last power play goal was at BU on Nov. 8. Two goals in that game and one each against Boston College and Quinnipiac make UConn 4-for-44 (nine percent) on the power play this season.
“We were able to kill (the last four power plays) and give ourselves a chance to win the game,” Cavanaugh said. “We didn’t win the special teams game in the end; I think that was really the story of the game. They go 2-for-6 and we go 0-for-4 – but I was happy. I don’t think at times it was, at times, a real poor performance. I think they’re a good club, and at times they’re going to put you on your heels. And we weathered some storms.”
Overall, Cavanaugh was pleased with the Huskies’ performance, especially their effort to fight back into the game. Saturday’s game was the last of three in five days. UConn tied ECAC leaders RPI Tuesday night and knocked off No. 11 Vermont Friday before losing to BU.
The Huskies now have a week off before playing Brown and will not have such a difficult stretch of games in such a short time until 2015. At the end of such a difficult road, Cavanaugh is pleased with what he saw from his team that refuses to play like a first-year team in a new conference.
“The last time we played a back-to-back game (at Penn State to start the season), it was a disaster for us,” Cavanaugh said. “One of our challenges as a team was to make sure we respond in a back-to-back hockey game, and I thought we did. I was really proud of the effort.”