LOWELL, Mass. — As strong as the numbers for Matti Kaltiainen, goaltender for the No. 1 Boston College Eagles, have been this season, shutouts have been hard to come by.
So as the minutes ticked away Saturday night against Massachusetts-Lowell, and the River Hawks, despite being down, 5-0, continued to press in attempt to break the doughnut bid, there’s no doubt that every one of the 18 BC skaters desperately wanted to keep any shot from crossing the goal line.
When the final buzzer sounded, Kaltiainen had withstood the test and the Eagles, maintaining a five-point advantage for the top spot in Hockey East over No. 3 Maine, cruised to the 5-0 victory in front of 5,328 at Lowell’s Tsongas Arena.
“I think Matti has a thing for not getting shutouts,” laughed BC forward Tony Voce about the junior goaltender, who has given up one goal 12 times this season, in addition to his now-three shutouts. “He’s a really relaxed goalie and he doesn’t let too much get to him.”
Kaltiainen himself admitted that he doesn’t care too much about the shutout totals, preferring wins. Saturday, though, he realized he was simply in a zone.
“It always feels good of course,” said Kaltiainen about picking up the whitewash win. “I was feeling good so I was really confident. [Down the stretch] I didn’t even think [Lowell] could score at that point.”
That confidence was obvious in the closing minutes when Kaltiainen, who finished the night with 26 saves, stopped Lowell’s Jerramie Domish on a breakaway before making a glove save on Jason Tejchma’s one-timer from 15 feet in the final minute.
The win is the fifth in a row for the Eagles, who have lost just once since October 24, and this weekend have moved into a three-way tie with No. 2 North Dakota and Maine for the top spot in the PairWise Rankings. At this point, head coach Jerry York feels confident of the way his club is playing.
“Night in and night out we have top players in the conference,” said York. “All these guys are getting more confident.”
BC’s offense on the night was sparked by senior Tony Voce who scored two goals added an assist to pass Eagles legend Ken Hodge for sole possession of 19th place on the Eagles all-time scoring list. The goals extended Voce’s goal scoring streak to three games and give him 24 total on the season.
In addition, BC’s penalty kill was a perfect six-for-six on the night, including killing five in a row in the second period and a 90-second five-on-three. As much as York would like to credit his forwards and defense for the kills, he had to look at his last line of defense — Kaltiainen — to dish out credit.
“Our penalty killing was terrific because our goaltender was making save after save,” said York of a PK that allowed Lowell a total of nine power-play shots. “He made some unbelievable saves.”
After controlling the play in the opening frame, BC jumped out to a 1-0 lead late in the first period. After a failed clearing attempt by the Lowell defense, J.D. Forrest’s floating wrister was tipped by Stephen Gionta at the faceoff circles. The deflection disabled Lowell goaltender Chris Davidson (26 saves) from controlling the rebound and Voce, standing on the doorstep, tapped the two-foot putt into the open net.
In the second, Lowell gained momentum thanks to consecutive BC penalties. While on the first man advantage, it appeared the River Hawks had scored to even the game. Referee John Gravellese ruled that the net had been dislodged, which indeed it had when BC’s Ryan Shannon crosschecked a Lowell player into the net.
The result was no-goal, but with Shannon given a penalty for interference, Lowell went on a 5-on-3 power play.
Able to muster a lot of shots, the River Hawks couldn’t beat Kaltiainen, helped out by Lowell’s Elias Godoy missing an open net. Minutes later, with BC again shorthanded, the Eagles got a breakthrough that turned the game around.
Dave Spina, picking up the puck at the defensive blueline, accelerated around the Lowell defense and, with a River Hawk defender on his back, floated an backhander the hit the intersection of the right post and crossbar and fell into the net at 15:07 for a 2-0 BC lead.
“The turning point in the game was Spina’s shorthanded goal,” said York. “We were back on our heels.”
“Those are the breaks you don’t get in our position and they’re the break you get when you’re in BC’s position,” said MacDonald about the turn of events that took a 1-1 game and made it 2-0 against the River Hawks. “Clearly we’re not trying to knock the net off the moorings in that case. There should be a rule would allow [the ref] to call that a goal.”
If MacDonald thought that was a big turn of events, things got worse as the second period expired. Firing a random attempt from the left corner, Patrick Eaves’ shot from below the goal line banked off Davidson and into the net as the buzzer ended the period.
“The goal at the buzzer was just a backbreaker [for Lowell],” said York. “The second period we lacked and we were lucky to escape with a shorthanded goal and a goal at the buzzer.”
From there, BC could put the game into cruise control, with Voce scoring his second of the night at 6:38 of the third and Joe Rooney capping the scoring at 17:50.
But with the train on cruise, it allowed Lowell a few last snipes at Kaltiainen, and gave the junior from Espoo, Finland, the chance to prove that a shutout was indeed in the cards.
“We tested our goaltender tonight,” said York, whose Eagles are now unbeaten in 13 straight. “And we found out we have a real good one.”