CHESTNUT HILL, Mass. -- Like pitchers in baseball, goaltenders can dictate a game all by themselves.
After his team held a 43-26 shot advantage on No. 13 Boston College, UConn head coach Mike Cavanaugh said it best.
“If you dominate like that in football or basketball, you win. But in baseball and hockey, there’s a pitcher and there’s a goalie that can nullify you,” Cavanaugh said. “Their guy was really good tonight.”
“Their guy” was Joseph Woll, and he was “really good.” The freshman made at least 13 of his saves in every period and totaled a career-high 42 on the night as the Eagles moved three points ahead of archrival Boston University for first place in the Hockey East standings.
BC head coach Jerry York described the performance ― in the heat of a “pennant race” ― in an eerily similar way to his former assistant and associate head coach of 18 years.
“Sometimes, your pitcher just pitches an outstanding game and you win a baseball game you maybe shouldn’t win. Goaltenders can do the same,” York said. “We have one sitting on my right-hand side, for sure.”
While Woll was the dominating force in an eventual victory, the Eagles wasted little time jumping ahead as defenseman Michael Kim scored his fifth goal of the season just 54 seconds into the first period. After a set faceoff play, the sophomore corralled a feed from freshman partner Connor Moore and lifted a long shot from the right circle over UConn goaltender Rob Nichols.
J.D. Dudek added the tenth goal of his sophomore season to double the Eagles’ lead just 34 seconds later, beating Nichols with a backhander after he burst into the offensive zone and took a pass from defenseman Casey Fitzgerald in stride into the center slot.
The offense came fast and furiously for the Eagles in the early going, but the visitors took over in a hurry.
“We had a great start, and sometimes that backfires,” York said. “I’m glad we got the two goals, but it kind of affected our play a little bit. They came on really strong. Mike is doing an outstanding job with the Huskies, and they’re dangerous, boy. They make some really smart offensive plays.”
With less than three minutes to play in the first period, Woll made a great stop to deny UConn’s Corey Ronan and Brian Morgan crashing towards the net on an odd-man rush after Tage Thompson’s shot created a rebound in the low slot.
The Huskies held the shooting advantage in every period, but they were most dominant in the second, posting nine of the first 11 before the margin shrunk to an identical 14-8 mark as the first period.
Thompson scored UConn’s lone goal of the game and his fifth in four games 6:11 into the middle frame. The sophomore connected with linemate Max Letunov on the power play for his 17th goal of the season, a one-timer from the left circle that was a direct result of a faceoff win and a pass from defenseman Philip Nyberg.
“I’m frustrated with the result, but I’m very proud of our effort and I thought we played a 58-minute hockey game against the best team in our league,” Cavanaugh said. “Unfortunately, we came up on the short end. I thought Woll was excellent and we had trouble getting pucks by him.”
UConn had six power plays in the game, but generated just two shots aside from Thompson’s goal. Three of the Huskies’ man-up tries came in the third period.
It was a collective defensive effort that allowed BC to finish off its 16th win of the season and Woll’s 12th. The Huskies’ 43 shots on goal were two shy of their season-high mark set against Colgate on Oct. 14.
“I thought they threw a lot of pucks on net, but our team was really strong defensively in front of me,” Woll said. “I think we limited their good chances and kept them to the outside for a majority of their shots. I thought our PK was awesome tonight.”
UConn’s Spencer Naas looked to tie the game 5:24 into the third as he slotted home a backhand shot, but goaltender interference waved off what would have been the junior winger’s 13th goal of the season.
In the end, it was not enough as Woll stopped Morgan on a semi-breakaway through center in the last seven minutes and Thompson had six of his seven shots on net saved.
“He probably cost us a couple points tonight,” Cavanaugh said of Woll.