Two minutes and 51 seconds into overtime, junior forward Maxim Letunov was being harassed by several Boston University defenders. Skating left to right and desperately trying to juggle a bouncing puck, he got some space and forced a backhanded shot while falling to his knees.
Somehow, it found nothing but net and gave the Huskies the 5-4 win after they trailed by two goals multiple times.
“I thought I had a chance to score, I had an open lane there,” Letunov said. “Mostly I just tried to put it on net.”
The goal sent the third-largest crowd in program history into a frenzy and gave the Huskies their seventh-straight win and their fourth over a nationally-ranked opponent during that span.
In a lot of ways, Letunov’s goal, and the Huskies’ comeback, was symbolic of the Huskies’ seven-game win streak as a whole.
On January 18, the Huskies had just lost five straight. The starting goaltender hurt his wrist earlier in the week in an injury he has yet to return from. The Huskies could have just packed it in for the rest of the regular season and waited for their starting goaltender to return in hopes of a playoff run.
Instead, they’ve always found a way to push forward, scrape and claw for wins and now see themselves in a position to host a Hockey East playoff series.
The Huskies had to fight an uphill battle most of the night to earn their seventh-straight win. BU shut the Huskies down offensively in the first period, limiting them to just three shots in the game’s’ first 20 minutes. The Terriers opened up the scoring at the 14-minute mark off a Chad Krys wrister from the left face-off circle.
Head coach Mike Cavanaugh attributed the sluggish start to some carryover prior to the game.
“I didn’t think we had a good day of practice yesterday and I think that carried over into our first period,” Cavanaugh said. “We just missed the net a lot, we had a lot of shots blocked.”
Spencer Naas tied up the game less than five minutes into the second period, but BU received goals from Bobo Carpenter and Brien Diffley to ensure a 3-1 lead heading into the final period of regulation.
Once again, Spencer Naas had the response. BU’s Dante Fabbro was called for elbowing at 4:12 to set up a crucial power play for the Huskies. Naas cashed in a minute later when the loose puck found him in the slot and he unleashed a rocket of a shot that BU’s Jake Oettinger had no chance of stopping. It was Naas’ eleventh goal of the year and made it a 3-2 game.
However, BU regained some breathing room just 17 seconds later when Ty Amonte put home a lose puck in front of the net.
The 7,372 inside the XL Center shared a tense mood. It looked like the clock had struck midnight, the glass slipper had fallen off and the Huskies had changed back into a pumpkin.
However, there was no doubt among themselves to be found on the UConn bench.
“We knew we were in this game and still had some time,” said Naas. “This is a really mentally tough group of kids. We knew we were in this game and just had to keep doing our thing and plugging away. ”
Kasperi Ojantakanen put the Huskies on the comeback trail for good when he deflected Letunov’s wrist shot from deep into the back of the net at the 10:14 mark. Just over four minutes later, sophomore Alexander Payusov knotted the game at 4-4 with a wrister from the slot that sent the XL Center into chaos for the rest of regulation.
The overtime session was the only one in which UConn outshot their opponents, including, of course, Letunov’s game winner.
UConn’s nine graduating seniors were honored in the traditional Senior Night ceremonies but Cavanaugh made sure his seniors knew after the game what they’ve meant to the program.
“When they came in, we were just hoping to compete in games and now this program expects to win games against Boston University,” Cavanaugh said. “I can’t thank all nine of them enough.”
UConn will put a bow on the regular season when they host the UMass Minutemen at the XL Center on Thursday night. The Huskies currently sit tied for fifth in the Hockey East standings. The 2-6 seeds will host the first round of the Hockey East playoffs with the first seed getting a bye.
Bryan Lambert is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.