CHESTNUT HILL, Mass. — The first bottle of Hockey East champagne will have to stay on ice until the final night of the regular season.
Thanks to a gutsy come-from-behind effort by New Hampshire, Boston College’s opportunity to clinch any part of the Hockey East regular-season championship will have to wait, as the Eagles and Wildcats skated to a 3-3 tie Thursday at a sold-out Conte Forum.
The result means that Boston College can still clinch the Hockey East title outright with a win on Saturday in the finale of the two-game set with New Hampshire. The Wildcats, however, can simply worry about the battle for home ice as they are now unable to earn enough points to win the league title.
UNH earned the tie with an Andrew Leach goal at 3:11 of the third period. It was the sixth time (1-0-5) this season that the Wildcats have come from behind after two periods to earn at least a tie.
“It was good for us behind going into the third period to get that point,” said UNH head coach Dick Umile, whose team will clinch at least a fourth-place finish with a win at home on Saturday. “It doesn’t allow us to have a piece of first place. But the most important thing was to get that point so we can still have a shot at home ice to get to the Garden.”
BC coach Jerry York, in a similar situation, will see his team maintain control of its own destiny. Should Boston University and Maine sweep their series this weekend, BC would need a win on Saturday to finish one point ahead of both squads for the regular-season title.
Though sharing first place could earn the Eagles a co-championship, a situation that would’ve been more likely had the Eagles lost either of its two games this weekend, it would take away the number-one seed in the Hockey East tournament from BC as the Eagles lose the tiebreaker to either Maine or BU.
“Our destiny is in our own hands,” said York. “We have to go to New Hampshire now on Saturday where two points will give us the championship.”
Thursday’s game featured wide-open play from both teams. The clubs combined for 89 shots, and countless times each goaltender was forced to turn aside tough shots at key moments.
Offensively, BC’s Brian Boyle led the way, scoring two goals for the Eagles. That brings his goal total on the season to 19, tying his career high that he registered a season ago.
The real heroes on the night, though, were both goaltenders. Though ironically each goaltender let in what might be considered soft goals, each made plenty of saves to compensate. BC’s Cory Schneider tied a career high with 43 saves, while counterpart Kevin Regan finished the night with 40 stops.
BC opened the scoring at 3:58 when Boyle deflected home a Brett Motherwell shot from the left point to give the Eagles an early 1-0 lead.
UNH answered, though, having a little bit of puck luck on its side. As Trevor Smith tried to center a pass on the power play, BC’s Dan Bertram reached to block the pass but instead redirected it over the shoulder of Schneider for an own-goal that evened the game at the end of one.
The Wildcats again were beneficiaries of a good bounce when Jacob Micflikier took a harmless-looking poke at a loose puck in front of Schneider only to have the puck bounce over the glove of the fallen goalie and squeak over the line. That goal, at 1:37 of the second, gave UNH a short-lived lead.
A neutral-zone transition opportunity less than a minute later proved the number two was wild and resulted in a BC goal. Bertram, who wears number 22, made up for his earlier mistake, ripping a Benn Ferriero pass inside the left post to knot the game at 2 at 2:22 of the second.
BC regained the lead at 6:36 when Boyle potted a power-play goal for his second of the night. Walking out of the left corner, he lifted a backhander from in tight that even he admitted he couldn’t figure out how it beat Regan. Somehow, though, it got past the sophomore goaltender to give the Eagles a 3-2 lead heading into the third.
Generally, that would be enough: BC was 14-0-0 entering Thursday when holding the lead after two. But UNH, which now has come from behind in the third period in four of its last six games, showed gritty determination to steal the road point from the Eagles.
The goal for Leach was a pure hustle play. Picking up the puck in a scrum in front and noticing that Schneider was pulled a little to far towards the left post, Leach moved around the net and buried the wraparound inside the right post at 3:11 of the third to knot the game at 3.
Both teams had late chances. UNH was the beneficiary of a power play in the final two minutes of regulation, but was unable to muster much offensively. And in overtime it looked like BC would have the best shot at the win. Joe Rooney skated in all alone with 2:45 remaining in the extra session, only to have Regan make a quick-thinking play and poke-check the puck from his stick.
That snuffed out the final chance for a decision and sent both teams, each seemingly happy, home with a tie.
For the Eagles, the fact that a win on Saturday still delivers a regular-season title was a bittersweet ending to its senior night. The team honored three seniors before the game — Stephan Gionta, Chris Collins and Peter Harrold. This BC senior class captured at least a share of the regular-season title in each of its first three seasons.
Saturday night, that trio will have the chance to make it a perfect four-for-four, but will have to do so on enemy ice, a place where BC is 2-10-0 in its last 12.
“Our objective will be hard to get,” said York. “We have go to the Whitt to play [on Saturday] and that’s a pretty good barn for [UNH] to play in.”