With about three minutes remaining in regulation of Friday’s Hockey East showdown between UConn and Boston University, the Huskies had to regroup. After a terrific first period in which they went up 2-0, they had been outplayed significantly in the previous 37 minutes of game time and now trailed 3-2.
“I think we had a little meeting right before, I think at three minutes,” Alexander Payusov recalled. “We had the little TV timeout, so we just came back to the bench and said we need to calm down and just stick to our game plan and that’s what we did.”
After that, UConn changed its approach. The team was able to get opportunities on offense, something it hadn’t really done since the first.
“We started to at the end of that third period just throw pucks at the net and try to create something,” head coach Mike Cavanaugh said. “I thought we were a little too cute and a little too perimeter for a while and some of it was just BU was taking it to us.”
The Huskies pulled Tomas Vomacka from net to create a 6-on-5 advantage with about 1:20 remaining, and then the XL Center atmosphere came into play. The crowd had been extremely loud in the first period, but the noise had turned indistinct as they watched UConn fall behind. Maybe it was a sense of desperation, but as the team controlled the puck in BU’s zone with the man advantage, the noise level rose again.
“The atmosphere, the fans were standing up, and they were getting us going and that goes a long way,” Benjamin Freeman said.
Just 20 seconds later, Jachym Kondelik put a shot on goal, which Sam Tucker saved, but Freeman was right there to knock in the rebound to tie the game with 56 seconds remaining.
“I really wasn’t even supposed to be there, but I’m glad I was,” Freeman said. “Kind of just tried to get into a soft spot and wait for Jachym to shoot the puck. Fortunately, he had a great shot and it was just laying there and I was fortunate enough to put it home.”
The Huskies were not done there, though. After making it through the end of the period, UConn, now with all the momentum, came out swinging in overtime. After getting the puck into the Terriers’ zone, Freeman once again came up huge, this time by stealing the puck and finding Payusov streaking toward the net. Payusov, who scored a game-winning goal at the XL Center in overtime against BU last season, just needed to tap the puck in to send the home crowd into a frenzy once again.
“I think that’s some of the chemistry that Sasha [Payusov] and I have created over the years,” Freeman said. “I just knew he was gonna be crashing the net, so I tried to get it through the D-man and past the goalie, so it was great that he was there.”
Nineteen seconds. That’s all it took in overtime to net the game-winner and completely snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. Payusov said losing wasn’t an option.
“I don’t think we ever had a doubt in that game,” Payusov said. “Even if we were down, we have a lot of guys that can score a goal. We never thought about losing that game.”
After the 1-0 overtime loss to Maine last week, Cavanaugh said the team had a completely different mentality for this overtime period.
“We talked about when we watched the film how we sat back in that overtime,” Cavanaugh said. “We were playing for the one point. We said as a team, if we get into overtime again — which we will — we’re not gonna sit back. We’re gonna learn from that.”
They learned, and in a span of about 1:30 of game time, the Huskies went from a difficult loss to, arguably, the biggest win of the season. In the end, it was BU who instead left with a heartbreaking defeat.
“When you play a game and you feel like you played a good game, and you get down to the last minute and they score and then they score again, it’s kind of like your legs got pulled out from under you,” BU head coach Albie O’Connell said. “But it’s hockey. It happens all the time. You got to play a full 60.”
With the Hockey East standings how they currently are, every point is massive. By stealing two points away from a team ahead of them in the standings, UConn went from the final playoff spot to being right in the mix for hosting a playoff series. They further solidified that chance by completing the sweep with a dominant 6-1 win Saturday.
The four-point swing that resulted from those two late goals could prove to be season changing for the Huskies, but Cavanaugh isn’t checking the Hockey East website for standings every time they pick up a win.
“Every game’s a four-point game,” Cavanaugh said. “I look at it as it’s just two points for our team. I’ve said this time and time again, I don’t look at the standings. We don’t have to scoreboard watch. We control our own destiny.”
However, Freeman admitted that this win was a little more special given the circumstances.
“You try not to look at the standings, but it’s impossible not to,” Freeman said. “It’s great for our team. I think it gives us a little confidence, a little wiggle room and we know we can play in any game so it’s exciting.”
In just four minutes, UConn changed the course of the game and, potentially, the season.