CHESTNUT HILL, Mass. — Entering Friday’s night contest, the Boston College Eagles had not lost two games in a row since Feb. 14 and 19, 2000. After a 6-3 loss on Tuesday night at Merrimack, the Eagles stated with authority, that streak would not end on this night.
Senior captain Brian Gionta notched two goals and added an assist while senior goaltender Scott Clemmensen made 18 saves to notch his school-record 12th career shutout, as the Eagles glided past Providence, 4-0 to maintain a one-point lead for first-place in Hockey East over New Hampshire, a 4-1 winner over Northeastern on Friday.
“We weathered the storm early,” said BC coach Jerry York, referring to Providence’s potency in offense even though it put nothing on the board in the opening stanza. “We were back on our heels in the first period, but we were able to get out with a 1-0 lead and were fortunate.”
The lead came thanks to Gionta’s first goal of the night, one of the shorthanded variety. It was Gionta’s national-best fourth shorthanded goal of the season.
Gionta’s two goals give him 105 career marks and move him into a tie for third place on the all-time Eagles goal list with Joe Mullen. Gionta stands five goals behind Scott Harlow in second and seven behind all-time leader David Emma.
“[Tying Mullen for third place] is something you look forward to,” said Gionta, who, with 206 career points, trails Emma by 33 points for the all-time lead. “It’s a great honor, but I understand that individual honors will come only if you play a team game.”
For Clemmensen, the shutout extends his record for career shutouts as an Eagle. Friday’s doughnut was his second of the season and fourth all-time against the Friars.
“[Providence] is always a tough team to play against,” said Clemmensen, who was the victim of six goals against in his last outing against Merrimack. “We played a lot better defensively tonight than we did on Tuesday, so that makes me feel good.”
The loss for Providence snapped a four-game winning streak dating back to Jan. 6. Coach Paul Pooley was able to sum the loss up with a simple thought.
“A shorthanded goal, a faceoff goal and a goal in the last minute of a period — those three things you simply don’t do and all three cost us,” Pooley said. “In the second period [a period in which Providence was outshot 17-5], we got outworked.”
Adding to Pooley’s frustration was his team’s inability to score with the man advantage. The Friars had five power play chances, three coming in the first period, but were unable to solve the BC penalty kill.
“Our power play wasn’t great for us tonight. We couldn’t seem to make that one pass [that was necessary to be successful],” Pooley said.
“They were a dangerous club [on the power play],” said York. “They had a couple of empty-net chances, but we played well on the penalty kill and broke up the pass with our sticks in the passing lane.”
Frustration is the easiest way to sum up the first 20 minutes for the Friars. Though carrying the play for much of the frame, it was Boston College that had the best opportunities, and thanks to a Gionta tally, the Eagles led 1-0.
After Peter Fregoe was stopped on a breakaway at 5:09, a hooking penalty to Rob Scuderi put the Friars on their first of three power plays. But the Eagles took advantage, not Providence. Rookie Ben Eaves stole the puck as the Friars broke out and after drawing all the attention, fed a streaking Gionta for the early lead.
When Devan Rask was hauled down at the 15-minute mark, the Friars, on another power play, were nearly victims again. Rookie Tony Voce blocked a Regan Kelly shot from the right point and walked in untouched from the blue line.
Voce tried to make a deke move on Providence goaltender Nolan Schaefer (32 saves), but the sophomore tender stood tall, keeping the Friar deficit at one entering the second.
BC expanded its lead at 8:31 of the second period when Jeff Giuliano scored his eighth goal of the season. Giulinao took a pass from Chuck Kobesew, but fanned on his first shot in front of Schaefer.
That turned out beneficial for the Eagles, as Giuliano connected a fraction of a second later and slid the puck through Schaefer’s legs for the 2-0 lead.
Providence looked to have a chance to answer at 10:15 when Jon DiSalvatore was sent in on a partial breakaway, but with the BC defense chasing, DiSalvatore only could let go a slapper from 25 feet on which Clemmensen covered the five hole to turn aside.
As the period wound to a close, Providence looked to escape down only two goals, despite being outshot in the frame 17-5. But with 12.8 seconds remaining an Eaves deflection of a Rob Scuderi shot spelled disaster for the Friars. Schaefer, expecting a low shot, was tricked by the deflection, which sent the puck into the upper left corner of the net, giving BC a 3-0 lead through two.
Gionta capped off the night when Tony Voce sent him in alone on Schaefer.
Easily one of the best players on the breakaway, Gionta didn’t disappoint, burying the tally to account for the 4-0 final.
Though the loss moved Providence four points behind the Eagles for the top spot and three points behind second place New Hampshire, the Friars will have a chance to make up the ground when these two clubs rematch on Saturday night at Schneider Arena in Providence, R.I.
“We’ll see what we’re made of — it will be a good test for our club,” said Pooley, whose Friars stand only one point ahead of Maine in third place.
Said York: “From what I hear, they’ve sold out Schneider Arena [for Saturday 's game]. I think that will be a good test for our club.”
With both teams ready for a test, Saturday will surely prove to be one important mid-term exam.