BOSTON – Cornell trailed for just three seconds, but that was all it took for the Red to fall to No. 7 Boston University at Agganis Arena on Saturday.
The Red (10-6-1, 7-3 ECAC) relinquished three leads over the course of the game and allowed a disastrous game winning goal with three seconds left in a dramatic and gut-wrenching 4-3 loss.
“It’s obviously heartbreaking,” said head coach Mike Schafer ’86.
The Terriers (15-6, 9-4 Hockey East) pushed the pace with their highly skilled skaters, and the game was more back-and-forth than Cornell’s recent contests. In its four games since the break, Cornell has used its effective forecheck to dominate possession. On Saturday, errant passes by either team led to opportunities on the other end of the ice.
After killing a B.U. power play just 30 seconds into the game, the Red settled into the first period and started to generate pressure on its offensive end. Cornell came up empty on a power play midway through the period, but took the lead with just under three minutes to go.
Senior defenseman Sam Malinski’s crafty wraparound feed found junior forward Gabe Seger in the slot. Seger dished it to a wide open Ben Berard, and the senior forward buried it to give Cornell a 1-0 lead.
Cornell relinquished the lead early in the second period on a slapshot that found its way through traffic and past sophomore goaltender Ian Shane. Schafer challenged the goal for interference because a B.U. skater in the crease prevented Shane from extending to his right to try to make the save, but the goal stood.
“I don’t know why it wasn’t disallowed,” Schafer said.
Cornell responded with a goal eight minutes later. Freshman forward Nick DeSantis found Seger on the wing with a feed from below the goal line, and Seger fired it past an off-balance Drew Commesso to put Cornell back in front, 2-1.
Senior forward Zach Tupker took a hooking penalty while trying to defend a breakaway opportunity for the Terriers with just under three minutes left in the period. Junior forward Kyle Penney was called for a faceoff violation 23 seconds into the B.U. power play, which gave the Terriers a minute-and-38-second long 5-on-3 power play.
It was the second time in the period that Penney went to the box on a Cornell penalty kill to send the Red down two men. The Terriers came up empty on a 23-second 5-on-3 with 11 minutes left in the period.
Once again, Cornell killed the two man advantage. Two lengthy shifts, first by Travis Mitchell, Max Andreev and Tim Rego, and then by Ondrej Psenicka, Sebastian Dirven and Malinski, led to a clear just as Tupker was rejoining the action. B.U. regained the zone but did not score before Penney was released from the box.
Back at even strength with 20 seconds left in the period, the Terriers continued to cycle the puck. The Red missed an opportunity to clear the zone with 13 seconds left when Tupker grabbed the puck out of the air and put it on the ice in front of Rego. B.U.’s Ryan Greene intercepted Rego’s effort to flick the puck down the ice and instead brought it down to the circle before setting up his teammate right in front of the crease. Jeremy Wilmer converted for the Terriers to tie the game at 2-2 with nine seconds left in the second period.
“It was frustrating. We kill the five-on-three, great job blocking shots, great job down by the net.” Schafer said. “Just not to have the awareness to clear the puck… We tried to make a play instead of just getting it out, and it ends up in the back of our net.”
Malinski gave Cornell its third lead of the contest with just under 12 minutes left in the third period when his power play blast from below the blue line found its way to the back of the net to put Cornell in front 3-2.
The Terriers equalized for the third time three and a half minutes later with their own power play goal to even things up at 3-3 with eight minutes left.
Cornell came up empty on a power play with under four minutes to go, and the game went into the final minutes in a 3-3 deadlock. The Terriers called a timeout before an offensive zone faceoff with 53 seconds left. Malinski blocked a shot and Penney forced a turnover behind Cornell’s net to give the Red possession with 30 seconds left.
Malinski found senior forward Jack Malone cutting on the back-door wing, but Malone lost control of the puck below the net and gave it back to the Terriers with 20 seconds left. Malinski missed a last chance opportunity to get a stick on the puck and keep it in Cornell’s zone, and the Terriers brought it down the ice with 17 seconds left.
“We have a great offensive opportunity that blows up in our offensive zone and then we turn it over,” Schafer said. “It’s really frustrating.”
The Terriers cycled it around their zone before a pass found Lane Hudson wide open at the bottom of the faceoff circle to Shane’s stick side. Hudson fired it past Shane with three seconds left in the game to send Cornell home with a brutal loss.
The Red led three times and only trailed for three seconds, but the mistakes at the end of the second and third periods — not clearing the zone after killing the 5-on-3 and the turnover with 20 seconds left in the game — proved to be costly.
“We did all the things we wanted to do,” Schafer said. “We just didn’t finish it, and that’s unfortunate.”
The nature of the loss is especially stinging because of its implications on the playoff picture. Cornell fell from 10th to 14th in the Pairwise after Saturday’s action. Had Cornell lost in overtime instead of regulation, it would have gotten credit for 40 percent of a win against a top-ten team.
As things stand, Cornell would be at risk of getting booted from the 16 team NCAA tournament field by automatic qualifiers that are below them in the Pairwise. That will make Cornell’s games against No. 1 Quinnipiac (currently second in Pairwise) on Friday and No. 9 Harvard (currently eighth in Pairwise) on Jan. 28 especially important as the best opportunities for the Red to climb the rankings.