BOSTON — With goals by Jon Jankus and Dustin Penner and in front of Jimmy Howard’s 40-save performance, the Maine Black Bears downed the Boston College Eagles 2-1, earning the right to play Denver in Saturday’s NCAA championship game.
The Black Bears struggled to keep their composure against an Eagle team that outshot them 41-18, and often found themselves shorthanded as a result. After taking a one-goal lead in the last minute of the first period, Maine saw BC tie it up early in the second and then had to fight off the Eagle power play throughout the middle stanza.
Head coach Tim Whitehead credited the break after the second for Maine’s ability to retake the momentum in the third.
“Thank God for the Zamboni coming out after the second period,” said Whitehead. “We would not have been here if it were not for that. We did have a chance to regroup, which was great.
“Jimmy obviously kept us in this hockey game. That’s not a secret at all. I am proud of the guys that we were able to regroup and play a solid, very smart third period. We feel happy to advance, that’s for sure.”
Howard was sound through the first, stopping breakaway chances by Ben Eaves, Dave Spina, Ryan Murphy, and Stephen Gionta, but the Maine sophomore was outstanding in the second period, particularly during a five-on-three Boston College advantage.
“I think that was a pivotal part of the game,” said BC head coach Jerry York. “It’s probably critical to score there.”
Ben Eaves said that the Eagles had “some unbelievable chances” during the 1:25 two-man advantage, but that Maine’s blue line also factored into BC’s inability to capitalize on its seven power-play chances.
“The Maine defenders did a great job of getting in our shot lanes and getting the pucks and knocking them down. There were a lot of shots that didn’t get through to Howard. We had our opportunities tonight. We can’t say that we didn’t have our chances, but unfortunately we just couldn’t put them in.”
Both teams had their chances in the nearly scoreless first period, and each had a little puck luck on its side, exchanging post shots early on. In the early going, Howard stopped Eaves on a breakaway only to have Eaves pick up his own rebound — and hit the right pipe. With five minutes left and at the other end of the rink, Michel Leveille dinged it off the left post and Colin Shields missed the open net on the rebound.
Jankus gave the Black Bears the 1-0 lead at 19:28, from Mike Hamilton and Prestin Ryan. “Prestin stressed going up the middle with the puck,” said Jankus. “I got open, he gave me the puck, and I dished it off to Mike Hamilton on the side and drove up the middle. He gave it back and I kind of fanned on my shot and the next thing I know it was in the back of the net.”
Jankus fired from the top of the right circle and hit BC goaltender Matti Kaltiainen’s leg pads. The puck bounced through, five-hole, and Maine led 1-0 after one.
Ryan Shannon tied it at 2:35 in the second with a smart, patient move on an innocent-looking play. Howard came out to play the puck left of the net on a rebound of Dave Spina’s initial shot, and Shannon skated out left and around Howard, extending his stick to get the puck behind the Maine goalie. It was 1-1 after two.
Penner’s game-winning goal at 1:05 in the third began with Mike Lundin’s shot from the top of the slot. Kaltiainen blocked that shot but the rebound came to Hamilton in the left corner. Hamilton passed out to Penner at the top of the left circle, and Ben Eaves blocked Penner’s initial shot.
The puck, however, came right back to Penner, whose one-timer beat Kaltiainen long and clean, on the glove side.
“I thought it was a game that Maine deserves an awful lot of credit,” said York. “They’ve won nine or 10 one-goal games in a row; they’re a very difficult team to play against. Howard was outstanding in goal … very, very solid.
“I thought their penalty killing was exceptional. In these type of games, we feel that you have to score some power-play goals, and we could not do that. Their penalty killing and their goaltending probably were the reasons our season ended tonight.”
“Having Jimmy Howard in the net helps a lot,” said Penner. “We just know we’ve got to play good defense in front of him and he’s going to make that first save and we’ve got to clear it out. It just comes down to heart … and getting the job done.”
Howard’s comment on Penner’s assessment of the game: “That’s perfect.”
The Black Bears (33-7-3) face off against the Denver Pioneers (26-12-5) at 7:03 p.m. Saturday in the FleetCenter. Whitehead said that he doesn’t know much about Maine’s next opponent.
“Obviously, they’re a great team for them to be here, to beat the two teams they beat in the regional … and to knock off Duluth, who was playing extremely well. I don’t know a lot about them, but will pretty soon.”