CHESTNUT HILL, Mass. — In a matchup between two of the streakiest teams in Hockey East, Boston College finished a home-and-home sweep of Northeastern, 3-1. After starting the weekend in seventh place, the Eagles have now moved into a tie for fifth with UMass-Lowell, one point behind fourth-place Northeastern and the final playoff home ice berth.
Boston College (18-14-2, 10-11-1 HEA) has now won five games in its last six and six of its last eight after enduring a six-game losing streak. Those losses came with Ben Eaves sidelined with a rib injury. Not coincidentally, the winning commenced upon his return.
This game gave further evidence of his importance to the Eagle lineup as his two goals paced the offense. Matti Kaltiainen provided excellent goaltending, stopping 23-of-24 shots.
“We’ve kind of had an up-and-down season, but we’re on another hot streak here,” said Eaves. “Just like last year, we want to ride this as far as we can.”
Although they’ll have to win the Hockey East tournament to qualify for the NCAA playoffs, the Eagles may be positioning themselves for just such a run now that they are healthy and firing on all cylinders.
“We got strong goaltending and we played well with the lead,” said BC coach Jerry York. “We all feel pretty good about ourselves…. We’re a tough team to play against right now. We feel very good about where we are.”
Northeastern, which had been recently riding high with seven wins in its last nine games, has now dropped three in a row. Two came this weekend, including a 7-2 drubbing at home on Friday, with the previous one coming at the hands of New Hampshire.
“We’ve been playing some pretty good teams,” said NU coach Bruce Crowder. “We had UNH for two and then BC. Obviously, they’re playing very good hockey right now. There’s no shame in regards to who you play and lose to in this league.
“All in all, our guys competed and played hard. We didn’t generate as much offense as we wanted to and that’s a credit to BC. They stymied us a little bit on Friday night also. They’re very quick, they’re very mobile and they have a good way of taking opportunities away from you awful quick.”
The contest was played in front of a sparse crowd of 2,537. Based on the applause and chants of “USA! USA!” when the scoreboard showed positive results from the US-Canada Olympic game, college hockey fans may have had divided loyalties in choosing which game to watch.
Those who came to Kelley Rink got good bang for their buck as two goals within 54 seconds of each other gave BC a quick first-period lead.
The first came at 12:03 on the power play. Eaves shot from the point through traffic and the puck beat NU goaltender Keni Gibson five hole. A line change later, Ales Dolinar made it a 2-0 lead, collecting a loose puck in the low slot, turning and shooting along the ice into the right corner of the net.
Soon after the second goal, however, BC took a penalty and Northeastern, mindful of taking its worst loss of the season to the Eagles on Friday night, created several excellent chances. Willie Levesque, fresh off the “disabled list” following a broken finger, had opportunities from the slot and to the right of the net, and Chris Lynch had the best one of all on the doorstep. However, Kaltiainen made the stops to preserve the 2-0 lead.
The Eagles threatened to break the game open in the closing minute of the period while playing four-on-three. Ryan Shannon and Tony Voce broke two-on-one, but Gibson made the save on a Shannon shot.
Three minutes into the second period, BC once again came close to making it a 3-0 game. Andrew Alberts put a shot high into the net past Gibson, but it came a fraction of a second after referee Jeff Bunyon blew the whistle.
Instead, the Huskies climbed back into the game when Mike Ryan took a home run pass from Jim Fahey along the right boards, cut in and beat Kaltiainen as he crashed into him. The goal, which came at 5:09, was Ryan’s 22nd of the season.
In the third period, Northeastern had some threats, most notably setups in front by Ryan to Jared Mudryk and Joe Mastronardi to Ryan Dudgeon, but ultimately fell to late third-period Eagle pressure.
With the game still 2-1 with three minutes remaining, the line of Eaves, Tony Voce and Dave Spina machine-gunned five point blank shots in the span of 15-20 seconds, but Gibson made some terrific saves before Fahey dove to send the loose puck sitting in the crease off to the corner.
Northeastern wouldn’t be so fortunate a minute and a half later, however. Eaves and Voce again generated great chances and Voce’s shot from the low slot may have even gone in the net. Eaves made such concerns a moot point, however, at 18:24 when he buried his second of the game to seal the win.
The jockeying for playoff positions concludes next week. Northeastern completes its regular season by hosting UMass-Lowell on Wednesday and then travelling to Merrimack on Friday. Boston College will attempt to catch the Huskies for the final home ice berth while taking on New Hampshire in a home-and-home series.