DURHAM, N.H. — If there has been any doubt in recent weeks which team in Hockey East is currently the most dominant, No. 3 New Hampshire answered that this weekend with a two-game sweep of No. 7 Boston College, winning Saturday night, 5-1.
The back-to-back wins clinched the sixth Hockey East regular season title for the Wildcats and the second in as many seasons.
“I’m just really excited for our team,” said UNH coach Dick Umile. “They were very determined. They played very good hockey and I’m proud of them.”
Saturday’s victory was the product of near-perfect special teams play by the Wildcats. UNH scored four power-play goals, the most since scoring six against Mass.-Lowell in January 2005.
“The power play has been moving the puck fairly well recently, in my opinion at least, maybe not some of our fans,” said Umile. “Just because you don’t score doesn’t mean you’re not doing a good job. Obviously, the puck went in tonight.”
Goaltender Kevin Regan finished the game with 26 saves, that after posting a shutout against the Eagles on Friday night. Regan swept all three decisions against BC this season, despite entering the year with a 1-4-2 career mark against the Eagles.
BC began Saturday’s rematch with more jump than it had at any point on Friday, but it didn’t take long before the Eagles wondered if they could ever solve Regan.
At 8:40, Ben Smith skated past a UNH defender and plastered a low, hard shot on Regan. The senior goaltender kicked the save right to the stick of rookie phenom Joe Whitney, who raised his arms in celebration as soon as he released the shot only to have Regan flash the left pad for a mind-blowing save to keep the game scoreless.
UNH broke the scoreless tie late in the frame on a power play when Danny Dries fired the rebound of a Mike Radja shot over a crouched John Muse, finding the top corner above the left shoulder at 17:19 for a 1-0 lead.
The Wildcats extended their lead with two quick goals early in the second. Fourth-line center Phil DeSimone took advantage of a bad bounce for BC behind the net, firing a quick shot home from the slot at 3:28.
Just 1:15 later, Dries buried his second power play goal of the game, firing home his own rebound as he was getting hauled down at 4:43.
Though the Eagles struggled much of the period to generate offense, Andrew Orpik took advantage of a neutral zone turnover at 15:26, burying a breakaway goal between Regan’s pads to close to gap to 3-1.
The goal ended a modest 108 minute, 58 second shutout streak for Regan.
BC’s best chance to close the gap came early in the third when back-to-back penalties to Jerry Pollastrone for tripping at 1:33 and Kevin Kapstad for slashing at 3:14 gave the Eagles extended power play time. However, as they did all weekend, the Wildcats took away any space from the BC offense, which finished Saturday 0-for-7 with the man advantage.
“We’re just not making the correct reads [on the power play],” explained BC coach Jerry York. “When you’re on top of your game on the power play, you’re moving the puck with ease.”
The Wildcats then rubbed salt in the wounds of BC’s frustrated special teams, burying two power-play goals of their own 18 seconds apart to ice the victory. James vanRiemsdyk pushed home a pass at the left post at 11:04 and Matt Fornataro kept the sellout crowd of 6,501 celebrating with a rebound goal at 11:22.
From there, the countdown to the title was on, something that’s become a familiar scene in Durham. UNH has captured six regular season Hockey East titles since 1997.
The focus now for the Wildcats is on finishing the regular season strong with two-game series remaining with Merrimack and Vermont, each of whom swept their series this weekend.
BC on the other hand, now must regroup with the focus no longer on a league title but instead on earning home ice in the Hockey East playoffs. The inability of the Eagles to grab any points this weekend dropped them from second to fourth, with only two points separating BC from fifth place Northeastern and Providence.
The Eagles play a two-game series against the Friars next weekend before playing a home-and-home with Northeastern in the final weekend of play.
“The first goal we had was to win the league championship, and that’s been taken away,” said York. “We’ll lick our wounds, go back to square one and start building back up again.”