CHESTNUT HILL, Mass. — Boston College head coach Jerry York learned something about his team on Thursday night — that it has the character to win big games.
Coming off a heartbreaking 2-1 overtime loss to Boston University in the Beanpot championship game, York’s Eagles gave up an early shorthanded goal to Maine, a team the veteran coach says “has all the ingredients of a national champion.”
Instead of packing it in, though, the Eagles rallied quickly to even the game and then went on to outplay and outscore the Black Bears the remainder of the game, taking a 5-2 decision in the first of a two-game series at Kelley Rink in front of a sparse crowd of 4,334.
“The major key was withstanding [Josh] Soares’ early breakaway goal,” said York . “Coming off a difficult loss and playing arguably our most important game of the year as far as PairWise and as far as home ice in our league, and we’re down 1-0.
“I thought we just stayed poised and fought back from that. A weaker team would’ve crumbled pretty easy right there.”
BC’s top line of Brian Boyle, Nathan Gerbe and Brock Bradford provided the offensive sparkplug the team needed, potting 10 points total, while the Eagles’ penalty-killers kept the Black Bears scoreless in five opportunities.
The Eagles held Maine to only 21 shots on the night, forcing goaltender Cory Schneider to make just 19 saves. That statistic is deceiving, though, as many of Maine’s chances were either generated from odd-man rushes or point-blank opportunities in the crease.
“We had our opportunities even though BC had the better of the play,” said Maine coach Tim Whitehead, who made no mistake about the fact that his Black Bears were outplayed by the Eagles in series opener. “We had the chances to come back but Schneider made some real big saves.”
In the Maine net, Dave Wilson made his third straight start since number-one goaltender Ben Bishop was sidelined against New Hampshire on February 3 with a groin pull. Though Whitehead said he couldn’t fault him for any of the four goals he allowed on Thursday, he still opted to pull Wilson (15 saves) in favor of Bishop midway through the game.
When asked if his decision to start Wilson over Bishop was due to Wilson’s hot play last weekend against Vermont (two wins while allowing just one goal) or the desire to give Bishop another day to heal, Whitehead said it was “a little bit of both.”
Still, though Bishop saw only nine shots on the night, stopping all of them, he was forced to make some big saves to give his team a shot at mounting a comeback.
“[Bishop] looked better than I thought he would,” admitted Whitehead. “He was cleared to play, but we wanted to save him for the second night.”
After Soares gave the Black Bears an early 1-0 lead with his shorthanded breakaway goal at 13:22, the 100th point of his career, the Eagles answered immediately.
Boyle redirected a Brett Motherwell shot on the power play just 55 seconds later to draw BC even, and Bradford buried the go-ahead goal, turning 6-foot-7 defenseman Simon Denis-Pepin and roofing his 10th goal of the season at 15:46 .
In the second, the Eagles extended the lead when Ben Smith netted his sixth goal of the season on the power play, banging a loose puck home at the right post.
Maine drew back within one on a Keenan Hopson knuckleball shot that fooled Schneider at 7:30. BC answered once again with Nathan Gerbe’s 15th of the year at 10:40.
In the third, the Black Bears had their chances but Schneider denied the comeback. He stopped Brent Shepheard on a breakaway at 11:50 and then denied Billy Ryan and Keith Johnson on point-blank bids with four minutes remaining.
Gerbe added an empty-net goal with at 18:24 of the third for his second multi-goal game of the season.
The win pulled BC two points ahead of Maine for third place in the Hockey East standings and clinches the tiebreaker by giving the Eagles the season series.
York, who may have watched too much of the Westminster Dog Show these past few days, used a canine-like example to personify his team’s ability to rebound from Monday’s Beanpot loss with such a solid performance on Thursday night.
“It was a tough rebound for us. We knew we lost [in the Beanpot] but we also knew we played pretty well, so it was kind of a good dog-bad dog situation,” said York. “We fed the good dog, saying ‘Keep playing like we’ve been playing — finishing checks and working hard.’
“If you feed the good dog he grows bigger and the bad dog goes away, but if you feed the bad dog, saying, ‘Oh, we lost, we’re not going to win another game,’ he grows pretty big too.
“We had a St. Bernard with us tonight.”