NOTRE DAME, Ind. - Defeats don’t often come with a big picture silver lining.
But that’s how it played out for the tenth-ranked Notre Dame hockey team Friday after a 3-2 loss to No. 9 Boston University. Thanks to other results, the Irish clinched a top four place in the Hockey East standings and a first round bye next week through the first round of league playoffs.
That comes despite a run of three straight losses over the last two weeks. Notre Dame (18-8-7, 14-5-2 Hockey East) is now 1-5-5 this season against ranked teams.
“I don’t want to back into anything,” head coach Jeff Jackson said. “Our team is better than that. But we’ve run into two really good hockey teams to finish the year here and we have to find a way to beat a good hockey team, one of the top 10 teams in the country. We did that against (Boston College) at Christmas time, but it’s crunch time now.
“The teams we’re gonna face the rest of the year are gonna be like this. We have to find a way. We’re gonna have to be willing to win a game 2-1. That means we’re gonna have to be even better without the puck because it’s hard to score goals this time of year.”
Boston College clinched the regular season league title with a 3-1 win over Massachusetts-Lowell, which locked Notre Dame into a top four spot.
All that remains is some positioning. Providence is locked into second place. Notre Dame will finish third with a win tonight in the series finale. Should Boston University win, however, it would take third place via the head-to-head tiebreaker. A tie would keep the Irish in third as well.
Boston University could finish either fourth or fifth, depending on its own and the Lowell result.
Either way, Notre Dame, in its third Hockey East season, achieved one of its long term goals for the season by earning a bye in the playoffs for the first time.
“We've been a solid team all year,” winger Sam Herr said. “We’ve earned the first round bye. We have a good group of guys that compete and have competed all year. That’s why we’re a top four team in this conference. As of right now, we have a chance to claim third place in this conference with a victory (tonight). That’s all that’s on everyone’s minds.”
Boston University (19-9-5, 12-5-4 Hockey East) claimed its win Friday by doing something few teams have against the Irish — taking a 1-0 lead.
Notre Dame surrendered an opening goal for just the eighth time this season at 15:24 of the first period following a Bobby Nardella tripping penalty. Ahti Oksanen scored his 15th goal of the campaign on the ensuing power play, beating goalie Cal Petersen with a one-timer for the right circle.
Connor Hurley drew Notre Dame level at 19:54 of the first with a power-play goal of his own. Nardella and fellow defenseman Jordan Gross picked up the assists.
But even with increased shots over the rest of the game the Irish couldn’t solve Boston University goalie Sean Maguire, who finished with 33 saves. Few of them were real choice scoring chances.
“Give them credit,” Herr said. “They were tenacious in front of their own net and even in front of ours. It’s probably pretty safe to say they outworked us at the net fronts. That goes on to us where we need to work harder in front of the nets. We need to get more bodies in front of their goalie. It’s just an attitude of getting to the net, making sure that we out-compete to get body position.”
Mike Moran scored at 2:58 of the second period to give the Terriers a 2-1 lead. Another goal followed at 9:07 of the third when a Charlie McAvoy blast from the point beat Petersen, who made 21 saves, over the glove.
Notre Dame put 16 shots on Maguire in the second and 10 more in the third but didn’t score again until Jackson pulled Petersen in favor of an extra attacker.
Steven Fogarty stuffed the puck past Maguire at with 1:32 left in the game for his 10th goal of the season. Gross picked up his second assist of the night in making it a 3-2 game, although capitalizing on that chance came too late.
“Just like last week on Saturday night, very similar type of game,” Jackson said. “We’re playing well but they’re scoring the goals. We’re not getting those Grade A chances and when we do we’re not finishing.”
Petersen a Richter Award nominee
Let’s Play Hockey and the Herb Brooks Foundation announced Friday its 26 nominees for the Mike Richter Award, which recognizes the most outstanding goaltender in college hockey.
Petersen made the list along with six other goalies for Hockey East clubs.
Petersen has started every Notre Dame game. Coming into Friday, he had a 2.12 goals-against average and a .930 save percentage. Both are top 20 marks nationally.
Mike Richter, who played at Wisconsin before a 14-year career with the New York Rangers, will present the award at the Frozen Four in April.