MANCHESTER, N.H. — Nowhere in Boston College’s master game plan was there a thought of taking a two-week hiatus before the NCAA tournament. With one game played, though, in the Northeast Regional, the break doesn’t seem be having an effect on the number-one seed.
After a bit of a slow start, BC used two goals each from young guns Patrick Eaves and Ryan Shannon to skate past pesky fourth-seeded Niagara, 5-2, to overcome losing two weeks ago in the Hockey East quarterfinals and advance to the regional final at the Verizon Wireless Arena.
“We wouldn’t want to do it again next year,” said Boston College head coach Jerry York, “but we handled the setback of being eliminated in our own tournament very well.”
Indeed the Eagles did, finding the perfect time for the power play — which had struggled of late, converting only twice in 20 opportunities in the quarterfinals against Boston University — to click. BC’s power play scored twice in five chances against Niagara Saturday.
“We definitely worked on the power play [during the off weeks],” said Patrick Eaves, who had both of BC’s power-play markers. “We knew that we’d have to move the puck around because [Niagara] has an aggressive penalty kill. We were just fortunate to have the puck find the back of the net tonight.”
Niagara, which qualified for the tournament by winning the CHA championship, also had a two-week layoff, but because the CHA — unlike the other five conferences — played its conference tournament two weekends ago.
That didn’t seem to affect the Purple Eagles, who jumped out to a quick lead.
After surviving early pressure by the BC offense, Purple Eagles captain Joe Tallari perfectly redirected a pass from Justin Cross over the right shoulder of BC netminder Matti Kaltiainen (26 saves) at 3:25 to lift Niagara to a 1-0 lead.
It was the shaky start that York and the Eagles didn’t want, but one they were prepared to handle.
“None of us went into this [game] thinking we were going to win 7-0 and walk over [Niagara],” said York. “The other teams are allowed to score goals, so if you start getting rattled just because the other team scores a goal, you’re not going to last very long.”
BC evened the game at 14:23 of the first on the power play. Patrick Eaves one-timed a J.D. Forrest pass from the left point that beat Niagara goalie Jeff VanNynatten (34 saves) through a screen, knotting the game at one.
Minutes later, BC grabbed its first lead. Shannon, only ten seconds after missing a wide-open net by pulling his shot past the post, redeemed himself by burying a shot at the right post at 17:03.
“I got a real good shot and I missed the net,” said Shannon, who has had a major impact on a BC team that is now 22-0-3 in the 25 games in which he has scored. “But the puck went into the corner and Dave Spina cycled it. He finally got it back in front and the goalie was out of position so I pretty much had an open net.”
In the second, BC extended its lead during a four-on-four. Defenseman Peter Harrold scored on a highlight-reel move, maneuvering around two Niagara defensemen and then, as he fell into the net, pushed the puck through VanNynatten’s five-hole for the 3-1 lead.
BC had ample opportunities to put the game away later in the period, including two two-on-ones by Patrick Eaves — one on which he hit the right post and the other that VanNynatten got a piece of with a quick glove. With the Eagles unable to capitalize, Niagara took advantage.
Tallari had the best opportunity when he was awarded a penalty shot at 16:23, after Brett Peterson hauled him down from behind on a breakaway. Tallari, though, had trouble handling the puck and, instead of making a move, fired a 20-footer that Kaltiainen had no problem turning aside.
“Tallari likes to go high glove and [the puck] kind of rolled on him a bit,” said Niagara coach Dave Burkholder, “He just tried to stuff it in the five-hole.”
Within the next minute, BC was assessed back-to-back penalties, setting up a 65-second five-on-three for Niagara, which capitalized when Aaron Clarke fed Sean Bentivoglio on a two-on-one rush. Bentivoglio buried the pass five-hole to pull the Purple Eagles within a goal through two periods.
Early in the third, BC put the nails in the Niagara coffin. On the power play, Voce found Patrick Eaves at the left faceoff dot for a one-timer that caught VanNynatten moving, for the younger Eaves’ second goal of the game and 17th of the season.
Minutes later, Shannon scored his second of the afternoon, walking in from the right corner and lifting a perfectly-placed backhander over the right shoulder at 10:25 to account for the 5-2 final.
The win advances Boston College to Sunday’s regional final, where the Eagles will face the winner of Saturday’s second semifinal between No. 3 New Hampshire and No. 2 Michigan.
Should Boston College advance, it will be its fifth trip to the Frozen Four in the last seven years, but its first since capturing the national championship in 2001. BC lost, 2-1 in overtime, in last year’s East Regional final to Cornell.
“The game tomorrow is the exact same situation we were in last year, and it’s almost the exact same squad as last year,” said York. “To get to the Frozen Four, we have to win one more game. It’s a veteran squad and that’s now our challenge: to win the next game.”