CHESTNUT HILL, Mass. — Entering a two-game series against No. 1 Boston College, some suspected that No. 13 Massachusetts, just a point behind the Eagles entering the weekend, could challenge Hockey East’s top team for the regular-season title.
After winning convincingly on the road Friday night, 5-2, the Eagles silenced the naysayers Saturday night, routing the Minutemen, 6-1, and taking a five-point lead over UMass and Maine, now tied for second place.
The Eagles’ offense was sparked by the play of the first line. which combined for eight points, including the first career hat trick for sophomore Patrick Eaves.
“We all had a jump right from the start, first shift,” said Eaves. “A lot of things can happen off that. [We] were flying out there.”
Whether the Eagles will admit it, the ability to show that BC is not just the top team in the league, but also the country, had to be on their minds this weekend for the Eagles. If there were any doubt that Boston College wanted to control the game from the outset, it was answered in the opening period, with the Eagles scoring four times to stake a 4-0 lead.
The Eagles opened the scoring with two goals 13 seconds apart — the fastest two goals of the season for BC. Eaves began the scoring with a hard wrist shot on the power play that appeared to deflect in front of Massachusetts goaltender Gabe Winer (23 saves) before hitting the left post and caroming into the net.
Ned Havern doubled the lead on the following shift, taking a headman pass on the left wing and blasting a 50-footer over the glove to Winer. That goal was the eventual game winner, giving Havern four winners on his last four goals.
At the 15-minute mark, the Eagles struck twice again, this time 27 seconds apart. Eaves accounted for the first one, blasting a slapper from the left faceoff dot over Winer. And Ryan Murphy, the hero of Monday’s Beanpot final, converted a pass from behind the net at 15:27 to push the Eagles to a 4-0 lead and allowing cruise control to kick in.
“Sometimes goals create the next goal. It’s a unique thing with hockey,” said Eagles head coach Jerry York. “You get a goal and are feeling really good and then, bang, you get another one.
“There’s no formula to it, but it’s nice to see it happen.”
The fact that the game went to cruise control was probably a good thing after a slow first period. The second frame moved quickly, going nearly eight minutes without a whistle before UMass scored to pull itself back into the game at 4-1. Steve Werner blasted a wrist shot off the left post at 14:40 to give the Minutemen a moment of hope.
That hope was snuffed when Eaves completed the hat trick with less than a minute remaining in the second, burying a Tony Voce pass to push the Eagle lead back to four.
BC added a third-period tally from Voce’s stick, his 21st goal overall and his league-leading 13th in Hockey East.
York said his team had “great jump” in the first period, picking up where it left off Friday.
“We made some terrific plays [in the first] that resulted in goals,” said York. “And then we continued to get solid goaltending.” Matti Kaltiainen finished with 14 saves before being lifted for junior Robbie Miller’s first appearance of the season late in the third.
“Right now we’re playing good defense throughout the 60 minutes.”
That defense stifled UMass throughout the weekend, allowing a total of 39 shots in the two games. That was enough to leave UMass coach Don “Toot” Cahoon scratching his head.
“Cohesiveness is [a problem] right now,” said Cahoon of his offense. “I’ve gotten away with really mixing and matching lines and combinations all year long. This weekend came up with a couple of different situations and matches that didn’t jive.”
Maine, which took three of four points from last-place Northeastern, is now tied with UMass for second place. Minuteman captain Thomas Pck was clear about his team’s sentiments.
“We saw what it takes to become the number-one team in the country,” said Pck, whose Minutemen have dropped three straight after putting together a four-game winning streak. “The good thing is that we stuck together as a team, but we were far away from our potential tonight.”
Still, dropping a series to the nation’s number-one team, though disappointing, isn’t too deflating to Pck and his club, particularly at this time of the year.
“Everyone knows what we have to do to get better,” said Pck. “They are the team to get at the end of the year, so I’d rather lose now than two months from now.”
With a five-point stronghold on first place, BC will next face darkhorse Massachusetts-Lowell, which tied twice this weekend against No. 10 New Hampshire. The Eagles look to become the first team since the 1992-93 national champion Maine Black Bears to finish the Hockey East year with just one defeat.
Massachusetts, on the other hand, will need to play well down the stretch, particularly next weekend against struggling Boston University, to hold on to second in Hockey East. UMass will play a home-and-home with BU beginning Friday on the road.