After an uncharacteristic flop in the opener of its Hockey East quarterfinal series against New Hampshire, there were concerns about how Boston University would respond in the rematch.
Questions lingered about whether the third-seeded Terriers had anything left in the tank after squandering a career-high 47 saves by Kieran Millan in Friday night’s 3-2 loss in double overtime, an 82-minute affair that ranked as the longest ever played at Agganis Arena.
BU (22-13-1) served up its response in resounding fashion with a 4-2 victory over the sixth-seeded Wildcats (15-18-3) Saturday afternoon before an Agganis crowd of 3,624, setting up a decisive Game 3 Sunday at 5 p.m.
“Well, obviously, I’m not only happy with the outcome, but happy with the way we played,’’ said BU coach Jack Parker. “It was much better than last night and we got the ‘W’ to boot. We just needed to play well to feel good about ourselves and we did that.
“And we obviously needed to win to keep our hopes alive of winning the Hockey East championship.’’
In danger of getting swept from the quarters for the first time since 1988, BU captain Chris Connolly gathered his teammates around Millan near the BU net before the game.
“He just made sure that we were calm and we weren’t panicking,’’ said sophomore Sahir Gill, who answered his captain’s call by centering BU’s second line, scoring a diving goal at 17:16 of the second to break a 1-1 tie, and adding assists on third-period scores by Matt Nieto at 4:54 and Ryan Santana at 7:18.
“You’ve got to win this game to put yourself in position for Game 3,’’ said Gill, who recorded his eighth multipoint game of the season and 12th of his career. “And he just made sure that we were ready to go, and just kind of reiterated that we had to stay focused and play our hockey.
“I think we kind of got away from what makes us successful [Friday] night, but today I thought we did a better job of playing BU hockey.’’
That much was evident from the outset when Connolly gave BU a 1-0 lead at 11:55 of the first. Connolly poked an exposed puck that had trickled through the pads of UNH freshman netminder Casey DeSmith (32 saves) into the net for his ninth goal of the season.
“We looked like we were actually skating,’’ Parker said. “Last night, we looked like we were skating in sand, so it was a big change in our overall performance.’’
Stevie Moses, a senior right wing from Leominster, tied it for UNH at 10:16 of the second period when he ripped a shot from the right circle that beat Millan (35 saves) top shelf.
Gill, who moved from his normal spot on right wing to center Nieto and Evan Rodrigues, broke the tie at 17:16 when he recovered a long pass from defenseman Patrick McGregor and broke into the zone, knifing his way past UNH defensemen Justin Agosta and Eric Knodel, who was called for a delayed holding penalty as Gill closed in on DeSmith.
“It was a pretty far pass from the goal and I tried to get the puck on net,’’ Gill said. “I was lucky to get a good bounce - I think it hopped over his stick or something.’’
Gill managed to poke the puck past DeSmith as he dived at the net, while drawing a holding minor on Knodel, giving BU the man advantage.
“And then I thought we had another one right off of that,’’ Parker said, referring to Wade Megan’s apparent power-play tally from the doorstep at 17:47 of the second, which was nullified after a review showed the net had come off its mooring. “That’s a rule that I don’t think a lot of coaches like. You get a delayed penalty and then they score and you still have to serve another penalty, that’s a hard thing to do.
“But it was definitely an advantage for us to get a power play after that.’’
When Connor Hardowa’s slap shot tied it, 2-2, at 4:04 of the third, the Terriers responded 50 seconds later when Nieto pinged one off the post and in to give BU a 3-2 lead. Santana then converted a crisp centering pass from Gill for an insurance goal.
“I expect a real hard-nosed, hard-fought game,’’ Parker said of Game 3. “Whenever you get beat, you come back and play harder. I hope my guys realize that because we have to play harder than we did tonight to beat them tomorrow, that’s for sure.’’
Michael Vega can be reached at email@example.com.