BOSTON — Three was a magic number in this afternoon’s battle between the two top teams in Hockey East.
Trailing 1-0, No. 6 Massachusetts-Lowell scored three straight goals in less than minutes early in the game, only to have No. 2 Boston University respond with a trio of its own, capped by Jack Eichel’s overtime slapshot as the Terriers topped the River Hawks in front of 4,786 at Agganis Arena.
For good measure on the theme of threes, BU scored three power-play goals, and captain Matt Grzelyk added three assists. Ahti Oksanen also scored twice for the victors, while freshman C.J. Smith scored twice for the visitors.
UMass-Lowell had an excellent chance to extend their lead over BU in the Hockey East standings to four points. Instead the teams now have identical 8-2-2 records in league play.
“Just a great hockey game,” BU coach David Quinn said. “I’m sure it was an entertaining game for people to watch. It wasn’t easy to coach, I’ll tell you that. We just beat a very good hockey team. They make you work for everything.
“I’m so proud of our resiliency. After we got down 3-1, we did a really good of pulling it together and playing with the pace we needed to.”
Quinn also described it as a “gutsy win” on the heels of an uninspired showing at home against archrival Boston College Friday night.
For UMass-Lowell coach Norm Bazin, it was disappointing to see his team lose after scoring twice in just 23 seconds in the first period.
“It was an entertaining game for the fans, not so much for the coaches,” Bazin said, echoing Quinn’s reaction. “A lot of mistakes out there, and a lot of turned-over pucks for both teams. We lost in overtime, and we earned that. There was a whole bunch we didn’t do well tonight.”
BU came out strong before the River Hawk outburst. At 3:30, Eichel powered his way between two defenders, forcing a penalty that led to a power-play goal with just three seconds left on the man-advantage. Eichel dished to Grzelyk at the left point and the junior fired a shot-pass at Oksanen, parked alone on the far post. Oksanen bunted it, and the puck dribbled into the goal at a glacial pace.
“I guess they kind of forgot me on the back door,” Oksanen said. “Grizzy somehow found me and I just tipped it in between my legs.”
After playing on the top line with Eichel and Danny O’Regan most of the year, Oksanen has caught fire since being put on the second line with center Robbie Baillargeon. The Finnish left wing now has four goals in his last four games.
“Right now I feel really good playing with Robbie and today, we had [Nikolas] Olsson on the right wing, and that went really good,” said Oksanen.
The Terriers continued looking strong for much of the period, particularly on a penalty kill when the River Hawks spent no more than about 15 seconds in the BU zone. So it was surprising to see the game take an abrupt turn in the visitors’ favor.
At 17:27, Smith got the puck along the left-wing boards and took off with a spring in his step before driving toward BU goalie Matt O’Connor. Smith went around the goalie and tucked it in on the backhand.
Just 23 seconds later, UML struck again. Evan Campbell had the puck on the goal line with his back to the net before wheeling to pass to A.J. White across the slot. White created some space for himself and beat O’Connor with an eight-foot shot.
It only got worse for the Terriers at 1:57 of the second period. On a power play, Campbell dangled the puck before shooting into a scrum near the net. The puck popped up in the air and Smith knocked it in as Eichel buried him from behind.
BU got that one back within six minutes. Again on a power play, Evan Rodrigues took a shot from the point and the puck hit a body in the slot, caroming to O’Regan, who put it in.
With less than a minute left in the period, BU tied it up. Oksanen collected a puck at the left point that had been careening around the boards. With Matt Lane screening Boyle, Oksanen’s slapshot found its way through traffic and into the net.
The third period tightened up, and the River Hawks had a couple of grade ‘A’ chances in the last ten minutes, only to have O’Connor come up big.
So the game went to overtime. At 1:09, Campbell got called for boarding Eichel into the UML bench. It only took nine seconds for Eichel to end it.
Rodrigues set up Grzelcyk at the point, and the captain teed it up for Eichel at the top of the left-wing circle. Eichel unleashed a one-time blast that went directly into the net, high on the glove side.
It was Eichel’s second overtime game winner this season.
“I’ve never seen Jack want to shoot a puck more,” Quinn said. “He actually said it was the first one-time goal he ever scored. There wasn’t a goalie on the planet stopping that one.”
Bazin ended up wishing he had shown his team a little more of Eichel on film before the game.
“We know how special he can be,” Bazin said. “I thought we did a lot of watching tonight. We probably didn’t show enough video as a coaching staff- poor game plan. I want to make sure that next time we show him on video, so we don’t have to watch him live.”