CHESTNUT HILL, Mass. — For nearly two full seasons, Boston College head coach Jerry York has waited for forward Brian Boyle to live up to the challenges that the BC coaching staff has set for him.
Friday night, Boyle picked the perfect time do just that.
In the first of a two-game series against Maine that will help decide the Hockey East regular-season championship, the 6-foot-7 Boyle notched his first multi-goal game of the season. Among the goals was the gritty, hard-working game winner with 5:34 remaining, as the Eagles beat the Black Bears, 4-3, to pull into a tie with New Hampshire for first place with one night remaining in the regular season.
BC and Maine rematch Saturday night in the season finale, while New Hampshire and Boston University will play in Durham, N.H. BC controls its destiny because it wins a tiebreaker with UNH. The teams would be co-champs in the event of a tie, but BC would earn the No. 1 seed for the HEA tournament.
Boyle’s game winner was one that possibly only he could score. After stealing a rim attempt in the left hand corner, Boyle moved behind the net and around the opposite side, all while Maine’s Troy Barnes was draped on his back. Using the net as a pick to stem off Barnes, Boyle used his long reach to curl the puck around Maine netminder Jimmy Howard (25 saves) to fire a shot off the far post and in, sending the sellout crowd of 7,884 to its feet and the Eagles within a game of its third straight regular-season title.
“I just threw it at the net. I didn’t expect it to go in,” said Boyle, a first round draft pick of the Los Angeles Kings. “Coach [Mike Cavanaugh] said to get Howard moving laterally because he doesn’t have a lot of weaknesses. The best chances are to get him laterally moving.”
The goal finished off Boyle’s first multiple goal effort for BC since Nov. 21, 2003. It was Boyle’s 10th goal since the Christmas break, a time at which York told Boyle it was time make a major decision about the future of his game.
“He made a decision at Christmas as to whether he wanted to be a hockey player or not,” said York of Boyle. “I think he made the decision to work harder and try to understand the game better.
“We challenged him as a coaching staff at Christmas and told him if he wanted to be a player he’d need to step things up.
“He was a good player but he had to make that decision himself.”
Boyle agrees with York’s assessment.
“I kind of looked myself in the mirror and told myself I’m 6-7 and I need to start playing the game harder,” said Boyle. “If I keep things simple things will open up for me.”
Boyle’s performance on Friday night was complemented by an eight-point night for BC’s top line of Patrick Eaves, Ryan Shannon and Dave Spina.
“Those guys make it very easy to play,” said Shannon of his linemates. “Right now, we’re reading each other very well.”
Said Maine coach Tim Whitehead, “We played well enough to win, but we also played well enough to lose.”
His frustration was from his team’s lack of discipline that led to five BC power plays to Maine’s one.
“In the end, the difference was one power play goal for [BC] and none for us,” said Whitehead.
In addition to Boyle’s two goals, BC also got tallies from Spina in the second period to put BC up 2-1 and Shannon early in the third that gave BC a 3-2 lead at the time.
Shannon’s goal was one of pure hustle. After Eaves had made a rush down the left wing side to push a shot on Howard, forcing the netminder back into the net, Shannon tapped the loose puck over the goal line a split second before Howard could cover it.
Maine goals came from Michel Leveille — his 10th of the season in the first period — Greg Moore, and the first career goal for defenseman Travis Ramsey that tied the game with 12:26 remaining.
Matti Kaltiainen made his fifth straight start for BC with fellow netminder Cory Schneider still nursing a knee injury. Kaltiainen made 23 saves en route to the win.
The loss for Maine eliminates the Black Bears from contention for the championship. The best that Maine can now finish is third if BU loses Saturday night to UNH.
There is still an outside chance of a three-way tie for first. Should BC and UNH both lose on Saturday, BU, UNH and BC would all finish with 34 points. BC would win the three-way tiebreaker based on BC winning the season series against both UNH and BU.