CHESTNUT HILL, Mass. — Having lost twice to Providence at home in the regular season, falling behind early in both games and seeing rallies fall short, Boston College was determined to start fast each game in their best-of-three quarterfinal playoff series with the Friars.
For the second straight night, the Eagles scored two early goals, jumped out to a 4-0 lead and finished with an identical 5-1 victory over Providence to advance to next weekend’s Hockey East Championship Tournament, winning the series 2-0.
The Eagles rode the hot sticks on the weekend of two of their top forwards, as Nathan Gerbe and Benn Ferriero each tallied a goal and an assist on Saturday and finished the weekend with three goals a piece.
Ferriero and Gerbe’s first-period goals were matched by markers from Ben Smith and Dan Bertram as the Eagles took a 4-0 lead into the second. Providence put forth a valiant effort from that point forward, outshooting the Eagles, 31-5, over the final 40 minutes, but were stymied by the play of Eagles’ netminder John Muse (36 saves).
“Any type of series clincher is difficult,” said BC coach Jerry York. “Providence had a sense of urgency when it was 4-1. Thats when Johnny [Muse] held strong and held the fort.”
The Friars indeed did battle to the very end, a silver lining for Providence coach Tim Army, but in the end, his club was simply overmatch by a more experienced team.
“We’re all disappointed,” said Army. “Everybody expects to advance but we’re not quite there yet. We’re getting there and we’ll get there, but we have to learn how to play and how to play in a [playoff] environment.”
One major factor hampering the Friars on Saturday was being without some of their top players. Entering the weekend with both Austin Mayer and Ben Farrer out of the lineup with injuries, Providence lost top-line center Nick Mazzolini with a knee injury on Friday, leaving them scrambling to pull together line combinations.
In addition, the Providence power play struggled mightily in the series, following up an 0-for-4 performance on Friday with nothing to show in six man advantages on Saturday.
“Our power play dried up on us in the last third of the year,” said Army. “You need your power play to score to be successful and with that a couple of key guys didn’t have much production.”
Whereas on Friday night it took the Eagles 1 minutes, 18 seconds to open up a two goal lead, Saturday little was different, with the Friars falling behind by two after just 2:18. Smith redirected a shot from the right point at 1:26 of the first and Ferriero pushed home a rebound at 2:18. However, unlike Friday, when the Friars settled down for the remainder of the frame, things only got worse.
After Dan Bertram gave the Eagles a 3-0 lead, deflecting Carl Sneep’s shot from the right point past Simpson, Nathan Gerbe was awarded a penalty shot at 14:35 after being hauled down by Pierce Norton on a breakaway.
To say Gerbe successfully converted on the penalty shot is an understatement. The Hobey Baker candidate moved right to left into the zone, pulled Simpson to his right and then came to a dead stop, doing a 180-degree spin-o-rama and tucking the puck inside the right post to leave the BC crowd of 2,493 with jaws dropped and sending the Eagles to the locker room with a 4-0 advantage.
“I knew what I wanted to do,” said Gerbe, noting that he’s very aware of moves that NHL players have used in the recently-implemented shootouts that now decide tie games. “I’ve watched certain guys make certain moves, so I have an idea what I wanted to do.”
“I thought it was a great goal,” said York. “It takes a lot of courage to try something like that. I don’t think I’d have the courage to do that.”
It was the first successful penalty shot for BC since Chris Masters converted against Providence on February 23, 1999.
The Friars put more than a Boy Scout’s effort together in the second, outshooting the Eagles 17-1 in the frame. They finally got on the board at 2:46 when Ian O’Connor’s shot from the slot beat Muse.
Providence pressed BC throughout the period and was in position to cut further into the lead when the Eagles were whistled for back-to-back penalties, giving the Friars a 1:16 two-man advantage, but in the midst of the power play, Providence’s Jon Rheault slashed BC’s Muse in the head, setting off a scrum that took nearly 10 minutes to sort out penalties.
In the end, Providence’s power play was reduced to a four-on-three and BC ended up with an abbreviated man advantage of its own as Rheault was issued a five-minute major. Neither club scored, though, sending the game to the third with BC holding a 4-1 lead for the second straight night.
Similar to Friday, BC struck for the only goal in the third, this one from the stick of Brian Gibbons. That accounted for the 5-1 final and sent the Eagles to the final four in Hockey East for the fourth straight year and the 16th time in the 24-year history of the league.
For Providence, their season ends with a 14-17-5 overall record, including a difficult 3-8-3 stretch over the final two months of the season.