CHESTNUT HILL, Mass. — It’s amazing how one bounce can turn things around in college hockey.
The Boston College Eagles, entering the playoffs on life support, looked ready to dump the first game of its best-of-three series against Vermont on Thursday night. Able to score in the final minute of regulation to tie the game and then get a lucky bounce to win the game in the extra session, BC’s season literally seemed to take a turn for the positive.
That positive continued on Friday night as BC, behind a hat trick from senior Chris Collins, ended the Catamounts year, 6-2, to become the first team to advance to next weekend’s Hockey East semifinals.
BC will be joined at the TD Banknorth Garden by New Hampshire, which swept Providence with a 2-1 double overtime victory on Friday. Maine and Boston University each took 1-0 leads in their respective quarterfinal series.
“It was just the vitamin pill we needed,” said BC head coach Jerry York of Thursday’s win. “We’d been going through a tough stretch and all of a sudden the first game [of the playoffs] is slipping away.
“[Last night's win] really gave us a lot of juice for tonight’s game.”
Thursday night’s bounces didn’t stop in Friday’s game two. The Eagles were the beneficiary of two tough goals allowed by Vermont netminder Joe Fallon (19 saves) which truly made the difference in a game that saw the Eagles tack on two empty netters in the game’s closing minutes.
“I think [Fallon] would want a couple of those back,” said Vermont coach Kevin Sneddon of his sophomore goaltender.
Fallon was caught coming off the post a little early in the second period on a Collins shot to give the
Eagles a 2-0 lead and then in the third he fanned on a clearing pass allowing Benn Ferrierio to bury a shorthanded goal in the third that put the Eagles up, 4-1.
Neither of those goals loomed as critical in York’s mind as a Brett Motherwell tally with 1:09 remaining in the second. On a two-man advantage Motherwell blasted a one-timer that beat Fallon cleanly to give the Eagles a 3-1 lead heading to the third.
“That was a huge goal for us,” said BC defenseman Peter Harrold, who played catch with Motherwell at the blueline to set up the rocket of a shot. “It would’ve been a huge turning point if we were unable to score on the 5-on-3.”
BC jumped out to an early 1-0 lead when Collins buried his first of the night and 28th goal of the season. Skating in front of the net, he pushed the rebound of a Brock Bradford shot past Fallon at 14:49 of the first.
In the second, the Eagles extended the lead due an undisciplined penalty by Torrey Mitchell. With a penalty coming up to BC’s Mike Brennan for cross-checking, Mitchell charged a BC player as the whistle blew to even off the infractions.
Instead of a Vermont power play, it became a four-on-four situation in which Collins, using some open ice on the left wing side, fired a shot on Fallon. The puck seemed to glance off Fallon’s right leg and inside the post for a 2-0 BC lead at 11:40.
Three-and-a-half minutes later Vermont drew back within a goal as Jeff Corey broke between two BC defenders and fired a puck five-hole on BC netminder Cory Schneider (23 saves) to pull the Cats back within a goal at 15:10 of the second.
More Vermont penalties, though, late in the frame again cost the Cats. An Evan Stoflet hitting-from-behind infraction at 17:32 and a Jeff Corey cross-checking call at 18:19 set up the 5-on-3 power play that resulted in Motherwell’s goal in the closing minutes of the second.
Early in the third, BC gave Vermont opportunities to creep closer, taking two early penalties to put Vermont on the power play. But after the Eagles killed off the first penalty, the second miscue of the night by Fallon led to a back-breaking shorthanded goal.
Coming out to play a puck behind the net, Fallon fanned on the clearing attempt, allowing Ferriero to pick up the loose puck and wrap it around and in to give the Eagles a 4-1 lead, spelling the end of the night for Fallon. Senior Travis Russell (one save) replaced the sophomore netminder with 13:42 to play.
Vermont was forced into desperation mode and desperation moves accompanied. With a power play midway through the third, Sneddon pulled goaltender Russell in favor of a 6-on-4 advantage. The move paid off when Peter Lenes deflected a Mitchell shot from the point to pull the Cats back within two with 9:06 remaining.
That would be as close as Vermont would get, though, as Dan Bertram and Collins each added empty-net goals, Collins’ completing the hat trick, to account for the 6-2 final.
The win not only advances Boston College to the Hockey East championship tournament, it also helps their case for the NCAA tournament. Entering the weekend, the Eagles were below the tournament bubble at 15 in the PairWise rankings. Two wins against a team under consideration with a somewhat strong RPI could put BC in a position that it will no longer need to win the Hockey East tournament to earn an NCAA bid.
“We’re clearly still a bubble team,” said York. “These two wins will help us but our focus is still on [winning the Hockey East tournament].”
For the Catamounts, they close out their inaugural Hockey East season on a bit of a sour note but that doesn’t take any pride away from Sneddon for how his club competed.
“I know what the seniors are going through,” said Sneddon of a senior class that battled to an 18-14-6 overall record in its first Hockey East season. “For the younger guys I hope that they learned something, not just this year but tonight and during this playoff series that we need to get better for next year.