LOWELL — If Burlington was to hang tough with defending Super 8 champion St. John’s Prep, a heavy dose of steady defense was going to be the key.
And for one period, held together by hustle, will, and a human safety pin in goalie Nick Howard, Burlington was doing it, and the score was tied, 0-0.
Even after two periods, when Howard had finally relented by allowing goals to Mitch Shaheen and Kyle Lynch, Burlington had pushed across a goal of its own, a poke-in by Tommy Hanafin, and still was within striking distance.
But after entering the third period down, 2-1, the wheels on the Red Devils’ defense, shaking from the stress of four previous penalty kills, fell off.
The Eagles, who finished with 30 shots on goal, put four past Howard in the final 15 minutes, and ended up cruising in Game 1, 6-1.
“Sometimes the goalie can really frustrate you, and I think he did that to us for a while tonight,” said St. John’s Prep coach Kris Hanson. “But I had hoped that we would break through eventually, and we did in that third.”
Lynch’s second goal stretched the score to 3-1 at 2:51 into the period, and the air came out of the Burlington bench and cheering section.
With the little amount of offense Burlington generated — 14 shots on goal — and with star Kyle Martin in the opposing net, such a deficit seemed insurmountable.
The next three goals — by Anthony Quatieri, Dan Hennessey, and Danny Tighe — were exclamation points for a Prep team that is out to prove a repeat is possible.
“It’s not easy to come back after winning it last year, and we’re the fourth seed, so just on paper we aren’t supposed to win,” said Hanson. “This is the matchup that I think everyone considers a toss-up, but we won one game, you have to win two out of three. [In the past] we haven’t given up after losing one game, and I don’t think they will, either.”
Burlington is playing in a first-round Super 8 series for the first time.
“We left our senior goalie out to dry. He had a lot of great saves for us,” said coach Bob Conceison. “They were a much better team than us tonight. We have to regroup and get ready for next game. We obviously have to play better because that wasn’t our game. But give them credit, they deserved it.”