March 16, 2012

O'Neill leads Maine over BU in Hockey East semis

By Jesse Connolly

After surrendering their one-goal lead in the third period, Maine kept firing away on Kieran Millan and eventually earned a 5-3 win over the Terriers. (Dave Arnold Photography)

Final: Maine 5, Boston University 3

Recap: Alex Chiasson opened the scoring at the 2:46 mark of the first period. The Terriers winger broke in alone on Dan Sullivan and, before truly firing a shot off, gently sent a floater past the fooled goaltender to make it 1-0.

Joey Diamond's 24th of the season 46 seconds into the middle frame knotted things up at 1-1. BU reclaimed the lead at 6:16, as Matt Nieto tallied on the power-play to make it 2-1. It was all Black Bears in the remainder of the frame, as Kieran Millan was absolutely under attack. Maine's Will O'Neill (Salem, Mass.) struck twice in the span of 7:03 to give Maine a 3-2 lead heading into the third.

In the final frame, Nieto's second of the night knotted things up, but with BU shorthanded, Maine's relentless attack got to Millan again. Mark Anthoine ripped home a shot from the point to give the Black Bears a 4-3 lead. The Terriers pulled Millan in the closing minutes before having their push to tie things up slowed by a penalty.

Diamond iced things with his second of the night when he gloved down a lob pass and buried the empty-netter, sending Maine to the Hockey East finals.

Tournament Records: Maine 3-1-0; Boston 2-2-0

Key Play of the Game: Maine's incredible effort to get the game-winning goal off Anthoine's stick was something to marvel at, but goalie Dan Sullivan's amazing work in the final minute was simply electric. Maine's netminder stood on his head as the Terriers pushed and robbed Matt Nieto -- among others -- from burying BU's fourth goal.

Connolly's Commendations: In unconventional fashion, we'll lead off by giving a proper golf clap for Millan. The Terriers led the Black Bears fire at will, and their longtime netminder did a pretty damn solid job in handling the constant pressure, stopping 45 shots on the night.

Down the other end, of course, was yet another great showing by Sullivan. Maine's goaltender hit a big turning point early in the season when he and the Black Bears fell to BU and has been remarkable since. Tonight was his third win in a row when facing the Terriers.

It’s hard to imagine what this game might’ve been like were it not for Matt Nieto. The BU forward struck twice and fired a whopping eight shots on goal. That’s more than a quarter of the 31 shots the Terriers finished with.

What an absolute night of a lifetime for O’Neill. The senior defenseman had one goal all season and wound up tallying twice and adding an assist to lift the Black Bears to victory.

Connolly's Critiques: Though it’s hard to call out anyone individually, BU simply needed to do a better job of keeping endless pucks from making it to Millan. No one can expect to walk away from a game against as talented a team as Maine with a victory after allowing a hair shy of 50 shots on goal.

A big reason for those bloated shot totals, of course, was Boston University’s remarkably bad work on the PK. Not only did BU hand Maine six power plays, they allowed them to score on four of them.

Notes: Maine is seeking its first Hockey East championship since 2004. The Black Bears’ leading scorer, Spencer Abbott had to be helped off the ice after being hit from behind during the third period. BU failed to reach the finals for the third-straight season.

Next: Maine will take on Boston College in the championship game on Saturday night at 8 o'clock.