CHESTNUT HILL, Mass. — The Harvard Crimson learned a little something on Tuesday night: a four-goal lead is enough to win a game.
After Boston College spotted Harvard a 4-0 advantage midway through the game, the Crimson hung on for dear life, watching the Eagles climb within a goal late in the third before Charlie Johnson buried a 180-foot, empty-net shot with 8.4 seconds to play to give the Crimson a 5-3 victory at Conte Forum.
“It was a battle of attrition,” said Harvard coach Ted Donato, whose Crimson suffered in-game injuries that led to a shortened bench and visibly fatigued players.
Still, the quick start for Harvard, which scored on four of its first 11 shots, was enough to earn the club’s first road win versus Boston College since January 9, 1979.
“Harvard’s power play was on fire tonight,” said BC coach Jerry York about the Crimson man-up unit that scored on three of five power plays on the night. “They jumped out to a 4-1 lead through two periods and it’s no doubt that the power play is what got them there.”
To score three power-play goals versus BC is impressive anytime, but particularly since the Eagles hadn’t surrendered a power-play goal in three games, killing 16 straight over that span.
“We knew if we moved the puck around real fast and made a few good passes that we could expose their penalty kill,” said Harvard sophomore Paul Dufault, who set up the game’s first two goals, both power play tallies.
What had been mundane first period turned on a dime late in the frame thanks to the power play.
The Crimson got on the board at 16:06 of the first when Dave Watters redirected a perfect pass from Dufault over the right shoulder of BC goaltender Cory Schneider (13 saves) to give the Crimson a 1-0 lead.
With 23.2 seconds remaining in the first, Harvard extended the lead, again with the man advantage. Ryan Maki batted a puck out of midair after Dufault forechecked behind the net and forced a turnover that ended up landing in the slot.
Harvard held a slight advantage in shots, 8-7, but thanks to the late explosion maintained a 2-0 lead through one.
In the second, the territorial advantage swung massively in favor of the Eagles, who outshot the Crimson, 18-3. That didn’t translate to the scoresheet, though, as Harvard buried two goals to BC’s one to open a healthy 4-1 lead.
The Crimson kept chugging with the man advantage, adding a third power-play tally at 5:35. John Pelle was wide-open in the slot to bury a Kevin Du pass for the 3-0 lead. That advantage grew less than five minutes later — this time five-on-five — when Pelle set up Dan Murphy at the left post for the 4-0 score.
BC began its comeback late in the frame with a power-play goal of its own. Nathan Gerbe scored his fourth goal of the season and third in the last two games, lifting the rebound of a Brian Boyle shot over Harvard netminder John Daigneau with 1:39 remaining to climb back within three at 4-1.
In the third it was all BC. Peter Harrold buried the rebound of a blocked shot at 12:47 to pull the Eagles within two. Brock Bradford then scored his third goal of the season with 4:18 left to play to get BC within a goal at 4-3 and send what remained of the 5,421 fans in attendance into a frenzy.
From there, BC peppered Daigneau, who finished the game with a career-high 36 saves. A makeshift line of Brian Boyle, Chris Collins and Stephen Gionta saw much of the ice time late in the game and fired shot upon shot at the Harvard goal, the most notable a Boyle attempt with 47 seconds remaining that hit the crossbar. Nothing, though, made its way into the net and when Johnson buried the empty-netter in the closing seconds, the win was finally secure for the Crimson.
“It was kind of hectic,” said Daigneau of the game’s waning moments. “There were a couple of close calls, but luckily we escaped.”
The win for the Crimson marks the first time in the young season they’ve put together back-to-back victories and improves their record to 4-2-0.
BC drops to 4-3-1 and more notably, 1-2-0 at home — that after posting an 11-1-5 mark at Conte Forum last season.
Harvard returns to action on Friday for when it hosts Yale in ECACHL action. BC returns to its Hockey East schedule on Saturday night when it plays host to Northeastern.