CHESTNUT HILL, Mass. — For five weeks, the Boston College Eagles have found a major hole in the middle of the lineup. Thanks to injuries to key players like Ben Eaves and John Adams, the Eagles had not dressed the normal 18 skaters since a 4-3 overtime victory over UMass-Amherst on Jan. 7.
The result was a 1-7-0 stretch that knocked the defending national champs to .500 and out of the national polls. So Friday night’s return to the lineup of both Eaves and Adams had the BC faithful hanging banners and flags as if welcoming the troops back from war.
Welcome, certainly, those players were, particularly Eaves, who registered a goal and two assists as the Eagles upset No. 7 Maine, 4-3, in front of an electric crowd of 6,876 at Conte Forum.
“Our record is deceiving because of the [injuries] in the past month,” said Boston College coach Jerry York. “The ability to have four lines helps our top six players an awful lot because they don’t have to play the minutes they were playing.”
Seemed spurred by a boost of confidence playing with a full lineup, the Eagles jumped to an early 2-0 lead on what Maine interim head coach Tim Whitehead called a “no show” effort by some of his players in the opening period.
Though the Black Bears were able to tie the game by the midway point in the game, it was Eaves who put Boston College ahead with finishing a top-notch effort by linemate Tony Voce. Skating four-on-four, Voce raced to the corner with a Maine defender to battle for a dumped in puck. Voce won the race and centered a quick feed to an open Eaves who pushed the puck past goaltender Mike Morrison (29 saves) to give BC a lead it wouldn’t relinquish.
The game featured the fast-paced excitement and up-and-down play that has long become associated with BC-Maine contests. Though both goaltenders looked shaky at times, each giving up goals from 65-plus feet, offensive spurts saw both netminders forced to make three, four and five saves at a time.
“It’s always key to start a game off and get a few saves under your belt,” said Boston College goaltender Tim Kelleher (23 saves). Kelleher made key stops on Colin Shields early in the first period to keep the game scoreless and on Michael Schutte late in the frame to then maintain BC’s one-goal lead.
Maine’s Morrison also found his fair share of testers. Midway through the second period, Morrison stopped Eaves and J.D. Forrest on the doorstep, then turned away Ales Dolinar off the ensuing faceoff. Less than 30 second later, he stone-walled Jeff Giuliano and Voce on breakaways seven seconds apart.
Those five saves seemed key, but it was the sixth shot, one by Eaves, that beat him to give BC a 3-2 lead.
Boston College grabbed its two-goal first period lead on tallies by rookies Andrew Alberts and Ryan Murphy. Alberts’ goal was a blast from well outside the blueline as he rushed up ice, beating Morrison over the glove hand. Murphy beat Morrison on a scrum in front after the goaltender had lost his stick.
But after the Eagles got the 2-0 lead, Maine answered 29 second later at 15:52 when captain Peter Metcalf fired a quick, low shot through traffic that beat Kelleher five-hole and gave Maine life.
The Black Bears tied the game at 7:22 of the second period when Martin Kariya blasted a shot from the blueline that deflected off a BC defender’s stick and beat Kelleher over the left shoulder.
“I thought it was going to be a low shot,” said Kelleher. “It deflected off someone’s stick and just went right over my shoulder.”
A four-on-four created by matching minors to Forrest and Maine’s Preston Ryan for hitting after the whistled set up the goal-ahead goal for the Eagles. The open ice definitely benefited the Eagles who plastered Morrison with shot after shot until Eaves low-wrister beat him at 13:16.
The game remained 3-2 until late in the third period. Again skating four-on-four, Maine’s Ryan, the team’s leader in penalty minutes, took an ill-advised penalty for holding at 12:53. It took only 27 seconds for the Eagles to set up in the Maine zone and rookie Ryan Shannon to blast a perfectly-placed wrist shot under the left arm of Morrison to give BC a two-goal lead at 4-2.
“When both goaltenders are playing pretty well, sometimes you need the open ice out there to get off a good shot,” said York referring to his team’s play in four-on-four and power play situations.
Maine pressed the Eagles in the final minutes, pulling Morrison for the extra-attacker with 2:48 remaining. And with 1:08 left, Tom Reimann finished a centering feed by Matt Greyeyes to pull Maine within one, but that was as close as the Black Bears would get.
About his team’s performance, Whitehead was unimpressed with their physical play.
“We weren’t willing to pay the price and get in front of the net,” said Whitehead, whose Black Bears suffered their first loss in eight games. “We passed up too many opportunities to get the puck into the prime scoring area to get the rebound.”
The loss pushed Maine (16-8-5, 10-4-3 Hockey East) back into third place in Hockey East, one point behind Boston University, 4-2 winners over UMass-Amherst on Friday, and two points behind first-place New Hampshire. The Black Bears can catapult into first place on Saturday night with a win over Merrimack, since both BU and UNH are idle.
Boston College (14-13-2, 7-10-0) remains in seventh place, three points behind Providence. The Eagles are idle until Monday when they meet Harvard in the consolation game of the 50th Annual Beanpot.