CHESTNUT HILL, Mass. — This time, Superman faced down Kryptonite and came out on top.
Entering the contest, Boston College held the nation’s No. 1 ranking and had lost only once since October. However, New Hampshire, no slouch at No. 8 in the country, had dominated the series of late, posting a 6-0-2 mark with the last BC win dating back to its 2001 national championship season.
Superman and Kryptonite entered the third period deadlocked, 2-2, but BC got goals by Stephen Gionta and Ryan Murphy while goaltender Matti Kaltiainen stopped all seven shots he faced to give the Superman Eagles a 4-2 win over their nemesis.
Combined with a Massachusetts-Lowell 3-2 win over Maine, the win gave BC its third Hockey East regular-season title in the past four years. (Last season, UNH and BC served as co-champions.) In a post-game ceremony, Hockey East Director of Media Relations Noah Smith presented BC coach Jerry York and captains Ben Eaves, J.D. Forrest and Ty Hennes with the trophy emblematic of the title.
“It’s a terrific accomplishment for our team,” York said. “To win a regular season championship in a league that is this difficult, which I think Hockey East is, that’s a real feather in our cap. We really feel proud of that.”
Clinching the title with a win over a team that had held BC’s number made it all the sweeter.
“We were playing one of the top teams in our conference and certainly one of the nation’s elite teams,” York said. “To get the trophy we had to go through them, so that makes it even better.”
With the win, Boston College (26-3-4, 17-1-3) extends its winning streak to 14, matching its 1998 mark that ran until its loss in the national championship game. UNH (17-11-5, 9-7-5) remains in fourth place in Hockey East, four points behind inactive Massachusetts.
Especially frustrating for UNH fans was the feeling that goaltender Mike Ayers had tied up the puck on Gionta’s game-winner, a goal scored on a delayed penalty.
“We’re disappointed because we had a chance to get it done,” UNH coach Dick Umile said. “We played well, but we needed a better third period. Obviously, the delayed-call goal turned out to be the difference.
“We can play with any team in the country. The guys proved that tonight.”
Not surprisingly, Gionta had a different view of the game-winner than Wildcat partisans.
“It was just chaos in front of the net,” he said. “It was against Ayers’ pad, but they never really had control. We just kept whacking away at it and it went in.”
Arguably, the key to the third period came down to Kaltiainen and the BC penalty killers, who in killing off two third-period infractions ran their streak to 29 consecutive stops.
“I thought Matti was the difference in the two teams tonight,” York said. “He’s gotten better every month of the season and I feel very, very confident with how he’s playing right now.”
New Hampshire emerged from the first period with a 2-1 lead despite getting outattempted, 18-9. The Wildcats drew first blood at 8:14 on a Mark Kolanos deflection of a Mick Mounsey shot from the point. It was the first goal of the season for Kolanos, whose brother Krys scored the goal that gave BC the national championship in 2001.
The lead didn’t last even a minute, however. Patrick Eaves followed a Tony Voce opportunity from the slot by depositing the rebound into a wide-open net. The goal lifted the two linemates to 24 points in Hockey East games, tied for second best behind teammate Ryan Shannon.
Late in the period Boston College put on a display of offensive zone puck control that might have had fans searching the scoreboard in vain for a UNH penalty. So when the Wildcats were whistled for an infraction, a puck in the back of the net seemed likely.
Sure enough, that was the result, but not in the expected fashion. Steve Saviano and Sean Collins broke shorthanded two-on-one, Saviano shot and the rebound caromed directly to Collins who buried the puck in the open side. The man-down tally was only the third of the year for UNH, which had been struggling on the penalty kill, dropping to the lowest percentage in Hockey East in league games.
UNH held the lead until a picturesque BC goal at 11:33 of the second. With Taylor Leahy crashing the net from the point, Chris Collins fed him from the right boards to the far-side post, where Leahy redirected it into the open side. The goal was Leahy’s first of the season, coming in his 11th game.
All of which set up Gionta’s game-winner which came at 2:32 of the third. Minutes later, however, the Eagles almost saw the lead evaporate to another shorthanded goal. Steve Saviano collected the loose puck off a turnover and broke in all alone on Kaltiainen, but the goaltender made his best save of the game to preserve the lead.
At 14:23 Ryan Murphy added an insurance goal from the slot, giving BC its final 4-2 margin.
The two teams face off on Saturday at New Hampshire’s Whittemore Center.