CHESTNUT HILL, Mass. — When the Boston College Eagles took the ice on Friday night, it seemed for the first time all season they felt they had something to prove.
After beginning the season number one in the country in the USCHO.com/CBS College Sports poll, the Eagles have slowly and consistently fallen, and for the first time this season entered a weekend unranked.
If the Eagles want to move back up the poll, they understand they’ll have to win games, lots of games. Friday was a first step.
Paced by a career-high three points (two goals, one assist) by freshman Barry Almeida and a two-assist effort from defenseman Tim Filangeri in his first game back since suffering a concussion on Valentine’s Day, the Eagles dominated a struggling Providence team from start to finish, earning a 5-1 victory in front of 4,872 at BC’s Kelley Rink.
“I thought we really put a good 60 minutes in,” said BC coach Jerry York. “It’s been not very often that we’ve done that in the last couple of months. We’ve shown flashes of good hockey but we haven’t had the sustainability.”
The win pulled the Eagles within three points of fifth-place Mass.-Lowell, a 3-0 loser to Northeastern on Friday, in the Hockey East standings and allowed them to gain ground on Massachusetts, which entered Friday tied with the Eagles for sixth place but dropped a 6-3 decision to Boston University.
A major key to the victory was the return of Filangeri. Though he missed only two games (last weekend’s series with New Hampshire) his absence on the BC blue line was extremely evident in the Eagles’ two losses without him. His ability to not only play a solid night defensively but also chip in two assists became a bonus for the Eagles.
“[Defense] is one area we haven’t been as sharp and crisp as I’d like to be,” said York. “When you take Timmy [Filangeri] away from us, who has been our most consistent defenseman all year, it was a hard loss for us.”
Though Boston College controlled the game early in the first and held a territorial advantage, it was the Friars who held a 9-5 shot advantage in the period and struck first.
After a turnover high in the BC offensive zone, Matt Germain and John Cavanaugh skated in, two-on-zero, on BC goaltender John Muse (17 saves). Cavanaugh took a feed around the blue line and decided to attack the net, roofing a shot glove side on Muse at 11:16 for the 1-0 lead.
BC answered before the end of the period. Kyle Kucharski, playing for the first time this year on a line with BC’s leading scorer Brock Bradford and Brian Gibbons, fired a shot from the left faceoff dot that beat Providence netminder Alex Beaudry (22 saves) at 13:09 to send the game to the first intermission knotted at one.
In the second, BC took over the game, almost single-handedly due to the play of Almeida.
At 5:15, the rookie forward finished off a perfectly executed three-on-one, burying a puck at the right post for a 2-1 BC lead. Then at 14:50, Almeida one-timed a perfect Cam Atkinson pass from behind the net for a 3-1 advantage.
Before the period ended, this time on the power play, Almedia set up the Eagles’ fourth goal, firing a low shot on Beaudry, the rebound of which ended up on Brian Gibbons’ stick, allowing the sophomore to lift the puck over Beaudry’s left shoulder for a 4-1 edge through two.
“It’s pretty easy to score when you have guys putting the puck right on your tape,” said Almeida.
In the third, penalties put the Friars at a disadvantage far too often to climb from such a deficit and for the Eagles, it was simply about playing smart hockey to maintain the lead. Joe Whitney’s goal with 2:28 remaining was simply the icing on the cake to close the scoring in the 5-1 BC victory.
While the win pushes BC up the Hockey East ladder, it puts the Friars in a near doomsday scenario. Providence sits four points in back of eighth-place Maine for the final playoff spot. The Black Bears lost Friday, 3-2, to Vermont making Providence’s loss a missed opportunity to gain ground.
Playoffs, though, are no longer on the Providence coach Tim Army’s mind.
“I just wanted to come in and play well tonight and I thought we did for the first 20 minutes,” said Army. “Playoffs aren’t in my mind. We’ll use the next three games a springboard to the summer and next season.”
The two teams will square off in the back end of the home-and-home series Saturday night at Providence.