BOSTON — Undermanned, outshot and at times outplayed — none of it mattered Friday night to the Boston College Eagles.
The top seed in the Hockey East tournament survived an early onslaught from fourth-seeded Maine, got clutch goaltending from rookie Cory Schneider and, in the end, celebrated when senior defenseman Andrew Alberts’ wrist shot found the back of the net at 9:09 of the second overtime as the Eagles advanced to Saturday’s championship game with a 2-1 victory.
The Alberts goal concluded the longest semifinal game and second-longest game overall in Hockey East tournament history.
“We got a little lucky,” said head coach Jerry York. “Andrew’s shot hit the defenseman’s stick and just goes in glove side.”
The goal ended nearly four hours’ worth of hockey which, on any occasion, would tire a team heading into the championship game. For Boston College, though, that point is magnified.
The Eagles began Friday’s game without Patrick Eaves, who is suffering from a bruised lung he sustained late in last weekend’s Game 2 quarterfinal win over Massachusetts. As well, defenseman Peter Harrold is sidelined by acute mononucleosis. To cap things off senior forward Stephen Gionta left the game midway through with a bruised clavicle.
“I like the character of our club for everyone to step up and play very well with the injuries,” said York. “It puts us in a more difficult situation coming off playing almost two full games tonight. But I think when you get into a championship environment you seem to get some energy.”
That energy seemed to be missing early in the game for BC when Maine completely controlled the play. Outshooting the Eagles, 14-4, in the first, Maine failed to score a goal, unable to capitalize on two power-play opportunities. A week ago Maine scored six times on the power play to pace its series win over Massachusetts-Lowell.
“We had a few shots [on the power play] but I don’t think we simplified things enough,” said Maine head coach Tim Whitehead. “We were looking to make the extra pass and I thought we could’ve made things a lot simpler.”
After a scoreless opening frame, the second period featured all of the regulation scoring — in a span of 12 seconds.
BC opened things at 6:39 when Brian Boyle was left all alone on the power play after a botched Maine clearing attempt, firing a puck past Maine netminder Jimmy Howard (36 saves) for the 1-0 BC lead.
But just 12 seconds later, the Black Bears answered when Josh Soares fired the rebound of a Michel Leveille shot past Schneider (39 saves) to even the game at 1.
It remained that way late into the third when BC finally turned on its offensive jets only to run into a red-hot Howard. Ryan Murphy was denied by a quick left pad at 9:00 and 80 seconds later Chris Collins was stuffed on a breakaway. At the 12-minute mark Howard again came up big, stopping Dan Bertram at the right post.
Late in the third, the Black Bears nearly gave away the game, literally. With a delayed penalty coming up on the Eagles, Howard skated to the bench in favor of an extra attacker. In the defensive zone, though, Leveille panicked with the puck and tried to make a pass across to Matt Lundin. Instead, he feathered a pass that was headed for the empty net until Lundin made a dramatic stop on the goal line with only one hand on the stick.
That mental error didn’t cost Maine and neither did a similar mental mistake by BC late in regulation. With the clock counting down the final seconds, BC, instead of sitting on the puck and waiting for overtime, tried to force a pass through center ice that missed everyone for icing. On the ensuing faceoff with eight seconds left, Soares sneaked behind the Eagle defense and got two solid chances on Schneider, who denied both to send the game to overtime.
Howard came up with the first gem in OT, stopping Bertram with a quick right pad at 3:41. Howard then got a little help from the crossbar when Ryan Shannon beat him through a screen only to pang the metal with less than nine minutes remaining.
Schneider then showed his skills, stopping Keenen Hopson on a power-play bid with 6:25 left.
And in the closing seconds, BC had one last bid, easily the best of the period, when Collins was stopped for the second time on the night on the breakaway, forcing double overtime and setting up Alberts’ heroics.
The win advances BC to its 10th championship game; the Eagles will be looking for their sixth Hockey East title Saturday night. York wouldn’t answer the most-anticipated question: whether he’ll start Schneider or senior Matti Kaltiainen in net.
For Maine, the waiting game begins. The Black Bears entered Friday’s semifinal tied for 10th in the PairWise Rankings, and knew that a win would cement an NCAA bid. Though the loss did not immediately move Maine in either direction in the PairWise, there’s still a lot of hockey to be played around the country that could affect that.
“We don’t know where we’re at,” said Whitehead of a potential NCAA bid. “I think we’ve come real far as a team and would represent our university real well in the tournament. If we make the tournament I think we’ll have a real good chance to do something. I think we’ll be a great team for that tournament.”