Playing through adversity seemed to be the province of the Boston University men’s hockey team, which fought its way to the Hockey East semifinals despite losing three key players - one a defection for the professional ranks and the other two dismissals for sexual misconduct.
But the Terriers proved no match for the University of Maine, which overcame the loss of their best player, Spencer Abbott, in the third period to score a pair of goals and take a 5-3 victory over BU in the Hockey East semifinals before a TD garden crowd of 13,974.
As Abbott lay crumpled behind the BU net early in the third period after getting elbowed in the back of the head, Matt Nieto scored his second goal of the game to help the Terriers tie it, 3-3, at 4:03.
It could have been a potential turning point in the game, but the Black Bears refused to view it as such. Instead, Maine turned the tables on BU by getting a power-play goal from sophomore forward Mark Anthoine at 7:43 that proved decisive. Joey Diamond added an empty-net goal with 29 seconds left to seal the win.
Anthoine’s tally was the third of four power-play goals the Black Bears scored against the Terriers as Maine earned its 14th overall appearance in the Hockey East final. The Black Bears face top-ranked and top-seeded BC in Saturday night’s final, but Maine will likely have to do so without Abbott, the conference’s Player of the Year, who sat out the remaining 15:57 of game after getting elbowed in the back of the head by BU defenseman Sean Escobedo.
“If in fact he does not play, obviously it’s not a good thing for us,’’ said Maine coach Tim Whitehead, whose team outshot BU, 44-31. “But we’ll adapt. We adapted in the third period. But adapting in a 60-minute or more game is a different story.’’
After BU (23-14-1) took a 1-0 lead on Alex Chiasson’s tally at 2:46 of the first, Maine wasted little time in the second, tying it on Joey Diamond’s power-play score 46 seconds in.
Eight seconds after Maine’s Ryan Hegarty was sent off for interference, Nieto scored the first of his two goals, converting a pretty goal-mouth feed from Sahir Gill to give the Terriers a 2-1 lead at 6:16.
“We were looking like we were trying not to lose from the get-go,’’ said BU coach Jack Parker. “It was a bad frame of mind to have.’’
The Black Bears (23-12-3), whose most recent trip to the Hockey East final was two years ago when they suffered a 7-6 overtime loss to BC, responded with a pair of goals by senior cocaptain Will O’Neill.
O’Neill unloaded from the high slot to beat BU netminder Kieran Millan (39 saves) top shelf on the glove side to tie it, 2-2, at 11:22. It was O’Neill’s second goal of the season and first since a second-period tally in a 3-3 tie at North Dakota in the fourth game of the season Oct. 15.
O’Neill didn’t have to wait as long for his third of the season when he potted a power-play tally at 18:15 of the second. When BU defenseman Alexx Privitera was sent off for slashing, the Black Bears went to work, with Brice O’Connor pinging one off the post before O’Neill found net with his wrister from left circle.
“What I like the most was how we responded each time they scored,’’ Whitehead said. “We were able to respond, especially in the third period when Nieto scored to even it up, about three and a half minutes later on the power play, it was a huge goal by Mark.’’
Anthoine capitalized on a turnover by BU defenseman Adam Clendening, who attempted to clear a rebound of a shot by Brian Flynn.
“I was pretty sure I got all stick on it,’’ said Anthione, who ranks as Maine’s leader with 11 power-play goals. “I was looking to pass it to someone and no one was really around and Joey had the screen and I just shot it, you know, and it went in.’’
It was enough to propel Maine into the final, where the Black Bears will encounter a BC team eager to avenge a two-game sweep the Eagles suffered Jan. 20-21 in Orono. BC hasn’t lost since, winning 14 straight.
“The positive of it was we won two games, but the negative of it was we woke up a sleeping giant,’’ Whitehead said. “They’ve been outstanding ever since and we’ll have our hands full with Boston College. We’ll have to play great team defense and find a way to score some goals. So we know we got a big challenge ahead, but we’re looking forward to it.’’