ST. LOUIS — It was one of the craziest finishes that could be scripted in a national tournament game, but a six-goal outburst in the final seven minutes of play to break a 2-2 tie led to Boston College eking out a 6-4 victory over North Dakota in the national semifinal Thursday night.
The win advances BC to its second straight national title game, where it will meet Michigan State, a 4-2 winner over Maine in Thursday’s opener.
Just how crazy was the game’s ending? The fact that the game-winning goal was a Joe Rooney empty-netter with 50 seconds remaining pretty much sums things up.
With each team seemingly waiting for the other to blink in a lackluster third period, a perfectly-sniped shot by rookie Ben Smith at the 13-minute mark of the third gave BC its first lead of the game at 3-2.
That set off a round of fireworks that included a North Dakota shorthander by T.J. Oshie to tie the game at 15:22, a Nathan Gerbe power-play goal to retake the lead 32 seconds later, and then two BC empty-netters in the closing minute by Rooney and Gerbe that sandwiched a Chris Porter power-play goal with 16.4 seconds left.
“That’s the best team we played all season,” said BC head coach Jerry York, who’ll take his Eagles to the title game for the fifth time in the past decade. “[North Dakota] doesn’t play to not lose the game, they play to win it.”
“At this point in the season, there’s no shot they’ll quit,” said North Dakota’s Dave Hakstol about his team’s resilience late in the game. “You don’t fight like we fought all year long and then when it’s a two-goal lead you back off. There’s no quit in this team and you saw that tonight.”
North Dakota’s elimination ends an impressive streak for the WCHA. The last five national champions have come from that league, but North Dakota’s elimination will pit a Hockey East team against a club from the CCHA for the first time since 1998.
A major storyline of the evening was special teams, with BC scoring three times on the power play and adding a shorthanded empty-net tally. North Dakota added two goals of its own with the man advantage to complement Oshie’s shorthander.
Two of BC’s man-up goals came from Dan Bertram, who centers BC’s second power-play unit. While the Eagles have had marked success on the power play in the postseason, most of the production has come from the first unit of Gerbe, Brock Bradford and Brian Boyle.
“It’s nice to have one unit [scoring] but if you can ever get two units that can move the puck, that’s a great combination,” said York.
The opening 20 minutes saw five penalties whistled by referee Matt Shegos, who sent two Eagles to the penalty box in the first half of the frame before sending three North Dakota players off in the final eight minutes.
The Sioux jumped out to a 1-0 lead midway through the first. After BC had killed off a five-on-three Sioux power play, actually having the better of the opportunities shorthanded, multiple missed clearing attempts led to Porter snapping a shot from the slot over BC netminder Cory Schneider’s (25 saves) shoulder at 10:28 to give the Sioux the early advantage.
It was the first time that Eagles had trailed since March 9, when they fell behind, 1-0, early in the Hockey East quarterfinal to Northeastern but scored the game’s final seven goals for a 7-1 win.
Back-to-back penalties to North Dakota put BC on the power play and after numerous chances that were either stopped by North Dakota goaltender Philippe Lamoureux (39 saves) or hit the post, the Eagles finally cashed in.
When a Brian O’Hanley shot from the left point was tipped and blocked in front, Bertram found space to wrist a quick shot that surprised Lamoureux, beating him between the legs at 15:41 to knot the game at one.
The period saw plenty of offensive chances, with BC holding a slight 14-12 lead in shots through one.
Early in the second, with BC on the power play, Lamoureux made a highlight-reel save to keep the game tied. As Gerbe had Lamoureux down and seemingly out, the junior netminder wheeled around to his back and threw his legs up in the air to deflect the Gerbe bid wide in the opening minute of play. Shortly thereafter, the Sioux took the lead.
With BC serving a minor for too many men on the ice, a Jonathan Toews centering pass from behind the net deflected off the skate of Mike Brennan and slowly trickled over the line past Schneider at 3:15. The goal was given careful review by the instant-replay official, who determined a North Dakota player in the crease did not interfere with Schneider, allowing the goal to stand.
The Eagles, who carried the offensive flow in the period, outshooting the Sioux, 20-7, didn’t seem to have much in the way of luck. Twice in less than two minutes BC hit the post, one a blast by Rooney from the point and the second a backhander by Boyle.
It wasn’t until a Sioux penalty to Erik Fabian with 6:33 remaining that gave BC its fifth power play of the game, that the Eagles finally hit the back of the net.
After Lamoureux made an incredible right pad save on a Bradford bid at the left post, Bertram, who hadn’t recorded a multiple-goal game since early in the 2004-05 season, banged home the rebound for his second goal of the game at 15:21 to even the score at 2 heading into the third.
Neither team seemed to want to take control in the third, but when Smith picked the corner with exactly seven minutes to play, it set off what will be remembered as one of the wildest finishes in national tournament history.
The victory, the 13th straight for the Eagles, advanced them to the championship game for the second straight year, having lost, 2-1, to Wisconsin in last year’s title game. The thought that there’s one more chance for BC’s seniors to go out on top is one they seem to relish.
“This is something every team wants and we’re just lucky to be there,” said Boyle. “Last year has driven every guy on this team to want to win the national championship.”
And thanks to a crazy seven minutes of hockey and an empty-net game winning goal, BC will have that opportunity.