WORCESTER, Mass. — It certainly wasn’t a conventional ending for Boston College’s 5-2 victory over Minnesota in the Northeast Regional semifinal Saturday, but no matter how strange the finish was, the important thing for the Eagles was that it was a victory.
With 3:27 seconds remaining in regulation and BC holding a 4-1 lead, Minnesota’s Ben Gordon fired a shot that appeared to beat Eagles’ netminder John Muse (31 saves). The goal light went on, but referee Brian Aaron, positioned perfectly on the goal line emphatically waved that the puck had hit the crossbar.
Two minutes and 42 seconds ticked off the clock without a stoppage before BC’s Brian Gibbons buried the puck into an empty net to seemingly give BC a 5-1 lead, but at that point, referee Aaron decided to talk to video replay official Steve Piotrowski to verify whether or not Gordon’s shot entered the net.
The evidence was clear and after about an eight-minute delay, it was ruled that the Gordon’s shot had indeed entered the net and bounded back out quickly. Suddenly the comfortable 5-1 lights out lead for the Eagles became 4-2. Forty-five seconds became three minutes and 27 seconds.
Not exactly what you call comfort.
“We had a little time with the players [while the goal was being reviewed] and we said to them that we’ve got to keep playing,” said BC coach Jerry York. “We’ve got to win another hockey game.”
“We were all pretty sure it went in,” said Gordon of his shot. “We were just trying to get a whistle and get the time back on the clock.”
The reversal of fortune was enough to give the Gophers life, but not enough to salvage their season. BC’s Nathan Gerbe buried a goal into an empty net with 16.2 seconds remaining and this time the goal counted, as the Eagles won 5-2.
The Eagles advance to Sunday’s regional final and will take on Miami, a 3-2 overtime winner over Air Force in Saturday’s opening semifinal game.
Despite the strange ending, the Eagles were certainly pleased with their effort on the night. BC stormed the Gophers early, withstood some strong pressure in the second and then closed out the game with a solid third period in which the team scored three goals to ice the victory.
BC came out of the gate like a house of fire. The club’s speed was a problem early for Minnesota, and led to a parade of penalties that put the Gophers behind the eight ball early.
The Eagles were unable to score on an extended five-on-three advantage early in the first, but did get on the board on the third power play of the frame when Ben Smith notched his 22nd goal of the season. Smith pushed home the rebound of Gerbe’s shot past Minnesota netminder Alex Kangas (27 saves) at 6:33 to bring the partisan crowd of 7,357 to their feet.
Minnesota, though, withstood the Eagles attack in the first and escaped the period down just a goal. That seemed to give them plenty of momentum heading to the second.
“No doubt I was concerned,” said York of his team’s inability to capitalize early. “We had some really good chances to score and it was only 1-0 [at the end of one].”
That lead quickly evaporated in the second when Minnesota’s Mike Howe tucked the rebound of a shot from the right point past Muse at 3:01 to draw the Gophers even at one.
With Minnesota storming, they looked poised to grab the lead, but a tough turnover led to a two-on-one break where Joe Whitney set up Benn Ferriero for his 17th goal of the season at 7:58.
The Gophers outshot the Eagles 14-8 in the second, yet only could muster a draw for the frame.
In the third, BC was able to close things out. Pat Gannon buried a perfect feed from Matt Greene at 4:25 to extend the Eagles lead to 3-1, and Whitney fired the rebound of his own shot from the slot over Kangas’ shoulder to extend the lead to 4-1.
Even with the strange and uncertain ending, BC remained in control of the game. The Gophers pulled Kangas for more than two full minutes and put plenty of pressure on the Eagles, but the hole they’d dug for themselves was too large to crawl from.
“Our team isn’t a team that’s going to come from behind,” said Minnesota coach Don Lucia. “I thought 2-1 heading to the third was manageable, but then they got that third goal and I think that was a pretty big mountain for this team.”
With the loss, Minnesota finishes the season at 19-17-9, the first time in Lucia’s nine-year coaching tenure the team has failed to win 20 games.
“It has been an up and down year,” said Lucia, “I’m very proud of these guys at how they persevered all year long.”