CHESTNUT HILL, Mass. — Jack Parker’s Boston University Terriers proved one thing on Sunday night against the Boston College Eagles: If you’re not excited to play in one of college hockey’s biggest rivalries, you’re surely not going to win.
In what Parker called a “legless” effort by his club, the Eagles jumped out to a 4-0 lead in the second period and survived BU’s best chance for a comeback, handing the Terriers a 5-2 loss at Conte Forum.
“I thought we had two problems tonight,” said Parker. “We had no idea what our systems were and we were legless for most of the game. We looked like we were walking in quicksand.
“It was a slow game and I think we contributed to that mostly.”
On the other side of the ice, BC coach Jerry York was happy with his club’s victory, especially in light of the Eagles’ 3-2 loss in the series opener on Saturday night. But York, too, admitted that the encore performance of college hockey’s top rivalry lacked the zest of Saturday’s game.
“Sometimes, the second night, the heart and the mind are with it, but the games are simply tiring,” said York.
The offensive hero for the Eagles was none other than captain Brian Gionta. But as much as this surprises no one, it surely brought smiles to the face of York. Gionta, a perennial scoring leader for the Eagles, has struggled lately and had fallen to fourth in scoring entering the game.
“It was good to seem him score,” said York about Gionta, who finished the night with two goals and an assist. “He’s had some chances lately but could get the puck in the net.”
Gionta, who had three points in his last six games entering Sunday night, surely didn’t surprise the Terriers with his performance. Now, through 13 career games against BU, Gionta has racked up 10 goals and seven assists.
“The BC-BU game is huge for the team and each player tries to do his part,” said Gionta. “My position is to create some offense and, through fortune and luck, I’ve been able to do that [against BU] over the years.”
Though the early going of the game was slow, both teams had their chances. Just 87 seconds in, BC’s Mike Lephart gathered a faceoff win from Ales Dolinar, beat BU netminder Jason Tapp (24 saves) cleanly, but rung the shot off the left post. At 4:32, while BU was on the power play, Ealges netminder Scott Clemmensen (26 saves) was forced to make doorstep saves on John Sabo and Carl Corazzini to keep the game scoreless.
At 10:11, Eagles and Hockey East scoring leader Krys Kolonos ignited his team’s offense, opening the game’s scoring. Skating down the right-wing side, Kolonos took a drop pass from Jeff Giuliano. What looked innocent for BU turned deadly as Kolonos perfectly placed a shot between the left shoulder of Tapp and the crossbar to give the Eagles a 1-0 lead.
Less than five minutes later, BC clicked again, this time on the power play. After Tapp turned aside a nice bid on Gionta, rookie center Ben Eaves regrouped the play in the center zone and broke 2-on-1 with Tony Voce. Eaves ripped a hard wrist shot along the ice that beat Tapp between the legs at 14:53.
From there, the Eagles attack continued, but thanks to heads-up goaltending by Tapp, the game remained 2-0 through 20 minutes.
The second period began as the first ended, with the BC attack plastering shot upon shot on the lifeless BU defense, but Tapp held his ground early.
At 10:55, though, Voce made a highlight film pass that set up Gionta’s 12th goal of the season. Skating down the left wing, Voce began to lose his balance near the blueline. After falling to his knees, Voce threw a backhand pass through traffic that found Brian Gionta at the far post. Gionta, already past the net with BU defender Keith Emery draped on his back, was able to get enough of his stick blade on the puck to redirect it into the empty net for the 3-0 lead.
BC’s York described the goal as “unreal” and said that it was made because of Voce’s “athletic instinct.” Gionta, though, had more of a laugh on the play.
“[Voce] was coming into the zone and tripped over the blueline,” joked Gionta. “But then he recovered and made a great pass. I was just lucky to get a stick on it.”
The offense didn’t stop there. At 14:16, just 10 seconds after a BU penalty to Freddy Meyer had expired, Gionta struck again. Setting a perfect screen, Gionta deflected a Bobby Allen shot from the point through the legs of the blinded Tapp to open up a four-goal cushion for the Eagles.
Gionta’s two goals marked the first time since November 21 that he has registered two goals in a game.
BU finally finally responded on the power play late in the period. While bringing the puck into the zone, Nick Gillis dropped it to a flying Mike Pandolfo who, in turn, found Brian Collins heading to the net. Collins’ wrister beat Clemmensen inside the left post for the sophomore’s fifth goal of the season at 16:11.
In the final minute of play, Clemmensen, who hadn’t been called upon to that point to make a big save, stopped Gillis on a breakaway to preserve BC’s three-goal lead. Though Gillis might have been able to one-time the breakaway pass from Pandolfo and catch the BC goaltender moving, he instead elected to skate in further and attempt to deke Clemmensen. But the senior netminder stayed with Gillis every inch and turned aside the shot with a right pad save.
“There were different parts to the game that went both ways,” noted York. “But that save there was important. They had just scored and it kept them from getting momentum into the locker room.”
Early in the third period, neither offense mustered much attack, with the Eagles seemingly happy to stifle the Terrier attack. But at 9:12, BC’s Ales Dolinar let the Terriers back into the game when he took a five-minute major for hitting from behind in the Eagles offensive zone.
Though BU seemed disorganized early in the man-advantage, at 11:37, things clicked. Sabo took a breakaway pass from rookie Gregg Johnson and stuffed it between the legs of Clemmensen to pull BU within two.
But that was all the offense that the Terriers would mount as the partisan crowd of 7,770 grew to its loudest volume of the night when the Eagles returned to full strength.
York was pleased with his team’s penalty kill, saying, “It was a credible job giving up only on goal on the five-minute major. It was a tough kill, especially without our top penalty killer [Dolinar].”
The Terriers would continue to get chances late, as Brooks Orpik’s penalty for holding with 2:54 remaining gave BU its seventh and final power play. But J.D. Forrest, fresh back from the World Junior Tournament, ended BU’s hopes for the comeback. His shot, which in golf terms would be considered a beautiful pitch-and-run from 50 yards, floated nicely over the BU defense and found the dead center of the empty net to account for the 5-2 final.
The win allows BC (14-5-1, 7-2-1 Hockey East) to keep pace with Providence, 8-5 winners over UMass-Amherst on Sunday, in the race for first place for Hockey East. With 15 points apiece, BC and Providence are two points ahead of third-place New Hampshire.
BU evens its league record at 5-5-1 (7-10-1 overall) and remains tied with Maine for fourth.
The Eagles’ only game next weekend will be a road game at UMass-Lowell. BU will travel to Maine to meet the Black Bears in a two-game series next Friday and Saturday.