CHESTNUT HILL, Mass. — Many in sports will tell you a tie is like kissing your sister, but for Boston College on Saturday night, its dramatic tie against Maine was good enough for the conference championship.
Bringing to a close the most exciting regular-season finish in the 21-year history of Hockey East, BC’s Peter Harrold blasted a slapshot past Maine goaltender Jimmy Howard with 16.9 seconds remaining to tie the game at two.
The Eagles and Black Bears then battled through a scoreless overtime to earn BC the outright title in Hockey East, finishing a point ahead of Boston University and New Hampshire.
It’s the third straight regular-season championship for the Eagles and their 10th overall.
The tying goal came just seconds after Boston University had beaten New Hampshire, 3-2, in Durham, N.H., to climb into a three-way tie for first place. Had Harrold not scored and Maine gone on to victory, it would have been a three-way co-championship situation in Hockey East with BC taking the top seed in the playoffs based on tiebreakers.
Instead, the Eagles denied the Huskies their seventh title and UNH its sixth.
“I don’t know if I’ve ever celebrated a tie like that,” said Harrold, laughing. “It ended up one point was all we needed to get the championship and we got it. It’s nice to celebrate the championship.”
Harrold’s goal capped off a late-game rally that helped BC overcome a 2-0 Maine lead with less than six minutes remaining. An Andrew Alberts shot banked off the skate of Ryan Shannon with 5:56 to play to pull BC within a goal, before Harrold’s blast sent the sellout crowd of 7,884 into pandemonium in the closing seconds of regulation.
“We took probably about a minute off the whole game and they got two goals,” said Maine’s Howard, who had stonewalled the Eagles the much of the night and finished the game with 36 saves.
BC head coach Jerry York credited Shannon with keeping the team believing, particularly in the dressing room between the second and third periods with BC trailing, 1-0.
“When he spoke after the second period, he just had everybody’s attention,” said York of his captain, one of 10 seniors honored before Saturday’s game as part of BC’s senior night. “We have an expression that you have to jump in the wheelbarrow, and heading into the third period he just said, ‘Everybody into the wheelbarrow.’
“It’s hard not to get out of that wheelbarrow when there’s eight minutes left and it’s 2-0.”
Maine grabbed the advantage in the game early, taking control of the pace through the first 40 minutes. Unlike Friday night, when Maine was unable to draw penalties on BC, the Black Bears got six power-play chances including, three five-on-threes, but were unable to officially capitalize.
“Officially” is the word, because as the final penalty to the game’s first five-on-three expired, Maine’s Ben Murphy grabbed the rebound of a John Ronan shot and fired it past Matti Kaltiainen (23 saves) to give the Black Bears the lead at 6:47 of the first.
The game remained that way through the second period, though at 11:16 of the second, BC appeared to tie the game. Dan Bertram banged home a loose puck at the right post but referee John Gravallese, after a long consultation with his assistant referees, ruled that the whistle had blown before the puck crossed the line.
“I thought that we handled the no-goal well,” said York. “We stayed very composed.”
Not knowing the situation at UNH, heading into the third BC realized that it might need a victory to win the league title. That fate seemed ominous as Maine had not lost a game when leading after two since December 30, 2001, a span of 83 games (78-0-5).
When Jon Jankus intercepted a clearing attempt and fired it past Kaltiainen at 4:28 of the third, a win looked near-impossible.
The Eagles, though, never quit and even after they completed the comeback still looked to win the game.
“We played the overtime to win,” said York, something that could be said for both clubs as Maine outshot the Eagles, 4-3, in the extra frame.
In the end, though, a tie was plenty for BC, which finished the regular season 21-6-7 and 14-3-7 in Hockey East.
Maine finished fourth in Hockey East and will host fifth seed Massachusetts-Lowell in a series with implications far beyond the Hockey East tournament. Both teams sit on the bubble for the NCAA tournament, and most likely advancing past the first round of the league playoffs is the only way to keep the NCAA bid alive.
Maine has not missed the NCAA tournament since the 1997-98 season.
BC will begin a best-of-three playoff series next Friday night against eighth-place Massachusetts. BC won the season series against the Minutemen, 2-0-1.
On the line for BC, besides advancing to the Hockey East final four, could also be a number one seed in the NCAA tournament. BC entered Saturday tied for first in the volatile PairWise Rankings and might cement that ranking with a quarterfinal series victory over UMass.
For now, though, the Eagles can celebrate a championship and hope that this is one of several for them in the coming weeks.