CHESTNUT HILL, Mass. — A month ago, many Hockey East fans pointed to this weekend’s games between Boston College and New Hampshire as the series that could decide the regular season.
After Friday’s Game 1, though, nothing was decided.
Thanks to a late third-period rally capped off by a Sean Collins goal with 1:23 remaining, New Hampshire earned a 3-3 tie with BC to help the Wildcats maintain a three-point lead over the third-place Eagles and open a two-point lead over second place Boston University, which was idle on Friday night.
“We’ll take a point down a Boston College, especially when we’re down, 3-1, in the third period,” said UNH coach Dick Umile, whose Wildcats scored twice in the final 8:45 of regulation to force to tie. “I wouldn’t say it feels like a win, but it’s an important point.”
The Collins goal was set up by the hard work of linemate and powerhouse scoring partner Preston Callander. After a puck sent from the UNH zone bounced around the center zone, Callander picked up the puck at the blueline and skated in, two-on-one, with Collins. Drawing the defenseman, Callander fed the puck for Collins to finish off his 16th goal of the season.
“I thought he was going to shoot,” said Collins of Callander, admitting he was almost surprised by the pass.
Once alone on Kaltiainen, Collins was able to lift the puck on the backhand high off the shoulder of BC netminder Matti Kaltiainen (24 saves) and into the net.
“I thought Matti had him almost stoned on the left side,” said BC head coach Jerry York of Collins’ tying goal. “He was able to ramp it up off Matti and into the net.
“He’s a proven goal-scorer and he just found a way.”
The goal sent the game into overtime, where neither team seemed happy to settle for the tie. UNH outshot BC, 5-3, in the extra session and both teams had grade ‘A’ chances to score.
“[UNH] is trying to win a championship and get the two points,” said York. “We’re trying to stay in [the race for first place] and get two points.”
“We’re not playing to tie,” said BC captain Ryan Shannon. “Everybody is playing for a win.”
For much of the game, offensive chances were hard to find. Two teams known historically for potent offenses combined for only 13 first-period shots.
“I think we were feeling each other out a bit,” said Shannon of the early pace. “When you play a team like [UNH] that has such a high-powered offense, you don’t want to take too many chances offensively. If you take too big of chances and make a mistake, they get a goal.”
The lack of opportunities in the first period directly translated to the scoreboard, as the teams went to the locker room scoreless after 20 minutes.
It wasn’t until BC was given a 5-on-3 man advantage early in the second that either team could break the tie.
Dave Spina blasted a one-time pass from Ryan Shannon at 5:49 that beat UNH goaltender Kevin Regan (34 saves) on the short side to give BC a 1-0 lead. It was Spina’s first goal and first point since registering a goal and an assist in a 6-0 win over Massachusetts on January 28.
Later in the frame, BC extended the lead, capitalizing on a UNH miscue. A Wildcat defenseman tried to force a pass around the board behind his own net. Instead the puck hit Shannon in the leg and bounced right to fourth-line winger Pat Gannon in the slot. After putting a low shot on Regan, Gannon gathered the rebound and found daylight at 15:33 to give BC a 2-0 lead.
That lead was short-lived as UNH, on a 5-on-3 power play of its own, scored to pull within a goal. Offensive-minded defenseman Brian Yandle made a nifty play to sidestep a defender at the point, fake a pass and release a quick shot that surprised Kaltiainen, beating him along the ice at 17:04.
Midway through the third, though, BC regained the two-goal lead and had most thinking the Eagles would draw first blood in the two-game series. Ned Havern blasted a rebound over the glove hand of Regan at 7:30 to give BC a 3-1 lead.
That, though, simply wasn’t enough.
Daniel Winnik scored on the power play, taking a pass at the left post and jamming it past Kaltiainen at 11:15 to pull the Wildcats within a goal.
That set up Collins’ heroics and gave UNH the momentum heading into overtime.
In the extra session, Kaltiainen needed to make two big stops, the first on Callander from about 10 feet at 1:37 and the second on red-hot Jacob Micflikier at 2:27. The Micflikier bid actually squirted loose from Kaltiainen and nearly trickled in, but referee Tim Benedetto immediately signaled the puck had not crossed the line.
With two minutes remaining BC’s Chris Collins brought the offense to the other end, blistering a shot on Regan that the rookie had to stop with his blocker.
And just before the final overtime buzzer sounded, Patrick Eaves floated a tough screen shot that Regan barely reacted to in time.
The tie keeps the top of the Hockey East standings jumbled. UNH remains in first place with 33 points. BU, which tied Northeastern on Wednesday night and will rematch the Huskies on Saturday, remains in second place with 31. BC climbs closer to BU with 30 points.
Fourth-place Maine, a 2-0 winner over Massachusetts-Lowell on Friday, gained some ground and now sits two points back of BC with 28.
When these two clubs rematch on Saturday night, UNH still will not be in a position to clinch the league title. On the other hand, if the Eagles lose at UNH, a place they haven’t won since November of 1997, their title hopes are dead.
“We went into the weekend trying to get three out of four points,” said Shannon. “It’s going to be a lot tougher to get those points [at UNH] than it is here.”