DURHAM, N.H. — New Hampshire scored two goals early in the first period and used stifling defense to limit Boston College’s chances in a 4-1 decision. The win gave New Hampshire a share of the Hockey East regular season title with the Eagles, and gave the Wildcats the No. 1 seed in the playoffs, which begin Thursday night.
The hosts were not very hospitable to their guests, as New Hampshire outshot the Eagles 2-to-1 for the first period, and scored twice to open up a 2-0 lead.
“The early start gave New Hampshire the win,” said Boston College head coach Jerry York. “We had a poor start to the game, and eight minutes in we’re down 2-0. That’s a tough way to get going.”
UNH’s Sean Collins finished the game with two goals and the game’s number one star, while Steve Saviano assisted on both tallies and was named star number two.
“Any time you can get up on a team in your own building, get the fans into it, you give yourself a chance to win,” said Collins. “After that second goal, you could see the life drain out of them.”
That second goal was a bang-bang play by Collins and Saviano. On the power play, the Wildcats were cycling the puck well when Justin Aikins, from the point, sent a pass to Saviano at the right post. Saviano swatted at the puck, sending it across the slot to Collins, who buried the puck in the open net.
That came after the game’s opening goal, less than three minutes in. From behind the red line, fourth-line wing Tim Horst passed the puck to his wingmate Tyler Scott in the slot. Scott backhanded the puck, elevating it over a sliding defender and BC netminder Matti Kaltiainen.
The early strikes got the crowd of 6,500 to its feet. “It was awesome tonight,” said New Hampshire coach Dick Umile. “We had an advantage with the energy of the crowd.”
That advantage continued in the second, as Saviano and Collins increased the lead to three goals.
“We try to use the larger sheet of ice here,” said Collins. “Teams only play once or twice a year up here, so they’re not used to it. It’s less of a physical game, and we try to catch the D pinching a bit.”
And that’s exactly what happened at the halfway point of the frame. With the Eagles holding the zone, Saviano managed to knock loose a puck at the point and start a 2-on-1 break with Collins, with J.D. Forrest the lone defenseman back for BC. Forrest chose to play Saviano and the puck, but Saviano passed to Collins, who got the goal.
“[Collins and Saviano] are terrific players,” said Umile. “Saviano made the biggest jump from last year to this year, and Collins showed he should be here with his play last season.”
BC played with more intensity throughout the second, generating more chances and increasing pressure on Ayers, but didn’t manage to score.
On one sequence, Ayers made a sterling stop on Stephen Gionta, who took a quick shot trailing on Tony Voce’s rush. In the same sequence, the puck ended up on the stick of Voce to the side of the net, but the puck caught the shoulder of a sliding Ayers and bounced out of play. Ayers finished the night allowing only one goal on 25 shots.
Boston College finally got on the board with a power-play goal in the waning moments of the second. Defenseman Andrew Alberts one-timed a pass from Ben Eaves toward the goal, but a sliding Ayers knocked the puck aside. However, the rebound went right to a waiting Voce at the right post, who knocked home the biscuit for the goal.
“Given that we started down 2-0, we played pretty well from that point on,” said York. “It was still pretty close at 3-1 with the goalie pulled. With the man-advantage situation, if we manage to score, it’s a whole new game.”
That wishful thinking was about the extent of the BC offense, however. Senior Colin Hemingway, who scored a dramatic extra-attacker goal Friday night to tie the game, scored an empty-netter to preserve the win.
“I give a lot of credit to our senior class,” said Umile. “They’ve been through a lot. This is payback for a lot of hard work.”
With this game and other results around the league, Hockey East playoff matchups are set. No. 1 seed New Hampshire (21-7-6) will face No. 8 Massachusetts-Lowell on Friday, while No. 2 seed and regular season co-champ Boston College (21-9-4) will host No. 7 Merrimack on Thursday. Freshman phenom Patrick Eaves will return to the lineup for Boston College for the best-of-three series.
“He’s been cleared by the medical staff to play,” said York. “He’s been working out the last few weeks, practicing our systems. He’ll make our task easier. It’s difficult to get to the FleetCenter. In particular with [Hockey East's] four bottom teams, it’s going to be a tough job.”
The win also marked the 300th victory for Umile, but as expected, he downplayed the importance. “It’s not about [the milestone]. It’s about getting the win and getting the No. 1 seed. I’m glad the pressure is off and we can get rid of that distraction.”