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Men's Hockey: Letunov Shines, but Penalties Kill UConn in 4-2 Loss at No. 8 BU

UConn had control of the game for long stretches, but late power plays allowed the Terriers to grab both points at Agganis Arena Saturday afternoon.

Max Letunov gave the Huskies some hope with 23 seconds left after his second goal of the game.
Max Letunov gave the Huskies some hope with 23 seconds left after his second goal of the game.
Ian Bethune/TrueBlueUConn.com

BOSTON — When Evan Richardson stole the puck and hit the crossbar 13 seconds in, all signs pointed toward a great day for UConn.

The Huskies had control of the game for long stretches, especially early in the first and second periods, even after Boston University took the lead late in the first. But the game started to slip away early in the third, as UConn kept going to the penalty box. BU capitalized with two power play goals, and the Huskies could not recover, falling 4-2 to the No. 8 Terriers at Agganis Arena Saturday afternoon.

UConn (2-2, 0-1 Hockey East) was right with the Terriers (2-1, 1-0) for the first 40 minutes. BU went into the first intermission with a 1-0 lead after a late goal from Ryan Cloonan on a rebound that beat Rob Nichols from just outside the crease. Max Letunov, the former BU commit, got UConn back on level terms 4:48 into the second period, getting on the end of a feed from Kyle Huson after Tage Thompson gained the zone.

"I thought we played a really strong game for 40 minutes, right where we wanted to be," UConn coach Mike Cavanaugh said. "1-1 on the road against a top-10 team. I thought we were playing toe-to-toe with them."

The Terriers dominated the third period, outshooting UConn 15-3 overall in the final 20 minutes. UConn had done a great job of coming out with energy in the first two periods, but it was missing to start the third.

"I think they owned the first four shifts of the third period," Cavanaugh said. "That's what set the tone for the third period. It wasn't just their special teams goals. I think they outplayed us in the third period. That really is the difference of the game."

The Huskies went to the box three times in the third period, and it cost them dearly. Patrick Kirtland took a seat 4:52 into the third on a holding penalty. The power play only lasted 58 seconds before Boston Bruins prospect Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson fired a shot from the high slot over Nichols' shoulder.

Fifty seconds later, Spencer Naas went to the box after a knee-to-knee collision that left BU's Bobo Carpenter struggling to get off the ice. The officials deemed it a major penalty, and the Terriers took advantage.

Brandon Fortunato put the game out of reach slightly more than two minutes into the power play. Danny O'Regan's close effort was blocked, and Ahti Oksanen recovered the puck, finding Fortunato, who was left alone on Nichols' doorstep on the far post.

Over the course of four power plays in the third (the Naas major counted double), BU scored two goals on seven shots. On four attempts with a man advantage during the game, UConn only produced five shots.

"Any time you give a team essentially a period of power play time, it's going to hurt you," Kirtland said.

Despite the power plays, UConn was still able to produce late chances to get back in the game. Nichols went to the bench with 1:15 to play, allowing the Huskies to send out six skaters.

With UConn finally creating offensive chances in the final minute, Letunov struck for the second time in the game, beating Sean Maguire on a rebound to cut BU's lead to 3-2 with 23.6 seconds left.

UConn opted to keep six skaters out on the ice for the face-off and got the puck into the zone with a chance, but BU defenseman Brandon Hickey cleared the puck off the boards, and it bounced the length of the ice into the net to seal the game for the Terriers.

"This one definitely stings," Kirtland said. "Going into the period...it was a tie game. Right where we wanted them. On the road, we'll take that any time. To come out with a performance like that in the third, that's going to sting."

Kirtland's assessment echoed Cavanaugh's.

"There were times in the game where I thought we carried the play," Cavanaugh said. "I look at the shots and it's 33-18. I don't think it was a 33-18 game."

Cavanaugh went on to note BU took advantage on the power play, while UConn could not. Letunov thought the Huskies should have been able to do more offensively, but saw some positives UConn can take into the rematch at the XL Center Saturday.

"I thought we played a really good game," Letunov said. "I think we were really good down and kept pucks in. We just need to take it on net more."

Letunov has injected extra life into UConn's offense. As Kirtland noted after the game, Letunov is always around the puck, ready to create goal-scoring chances.

About three months ago, he was set to enroll at Boston University. Now, he is UConn's leading scorer with five goals and eight points.

"He sees the play he wants to make before he does it," Cavanaugh said. "That's a skill you can't teach. He's obviously been an intricate part of our team early on, and I think he's only going to get better."