DURHAM, N.H. — Boston College is staying alive. The 18th ranked Eagles skated away with a 5-3 victory in the first Hockey East quarterfinal game against No. 9 New Hampshire at the Whittemore Center Friday night.
Despite securing third seed in the tournament, UNH took a back seat to the sixth seeded Eagles as captain Brock Bradford, who leads the league with 25 goals, also led his club with two tallies on the night while netminder John Muse collected 35 saves.
“I feel very good about the way we played,” said BC coach Jerry York. “It goes as a win on our won/loss record, but this is a series and you have to win to advance. So we’re one up in the series and we feel very good about that, very fortunate in some respects.”
The Wildcats went 0-6 on the power play, but managed two shorthanded goals, while the Eagles went 1-5 with the man advantage and tallied one shorty as well.
The Eagles racked up a 4-0 lead to midway through the second period, the first two coming in the opening stanza.
BC got the first opportunity with the man advantage seven minutes into the game, but the Eagles didnt capitalize until the second chance. Just 43 seconds after UNH’s Jerry Pollastrone was sent to the box for interference, the puck traveled through the crowd in front of Brian Fosters (24 saves) net and landed at the stick of captain Bradford who then tallied his 10th power-play goal of the season at 12:45.
Three minutes later the Eagles struck again when sophomore Joe Whitney passed the puck from behind the Wildcat net to senior Andrew Orpik who one-timed it from the left circle to double BCs lead at 15:38.
But the Wildcats didn’t just roll over and play dead in the first because it was thanks to a couple of Muses heroic saves that kept his team ahead. In the opening minutes of the game, UNH actually had the chance to get on the board first when Bobby Butler received a pass by the right post, but Muse dove over in time to deflect the puck with his left pad.
“Johnny Muse made a really outstanding save really early,” said York. “I’m not sure who was on him; it was like a pad save that would have put New Hampshire up 1-0. I thought that was a real key because we haven’t had a lot of success winning up here at the Whitt and that [save] kept it from being 1-0 Wildcats.”
The action picked up in the second, adding five more goals to the scoreboard. The Wildcats tried to claw back in this 20 minute set with two shorthanded goals, but it wasn’t good enough, especially for UNH coach Dick Umile.
“I thought in the second period we had chances with the power play and it was just not good the way we handled the puck, we couldn’t get it in,” he said. “I was disappointed with the puck handling, especially in the beginning of the second period; that’s when kind of the momentum changed. Obviously it’s four to zip, call a time out, they [UNH] battled back, but you know I can’t believe we gave them four goals. I’m just really disappointed how we handled the puck in the second period–it was like a falling object for us.”
Down one man after Nick Petrecki–BC’s leader in penalty minutes–was sent to his office for contact to the head roughing, the Eagles swooped in with a shorthanded goal at 5:06. Rookie Cam Atkinson drove from the neutral zone down the right wing and just as he passed the goal line he slid the puck over the crease where classmate Jimmy Hayes was there to jam it in the open net on the rush to make it 3-0.
Then 4-on-4, BC attacked once again. Junior Ben Smith beat a Wildcat defender in the slot with a back pass to Tim Kunes who then rifled it past Foster for his third goal of the season and BCs fourth of the night at 10:48.
At this point the Wildcats had enough and finally got on the board exactly a minute later despite being a man down. UNH scoring leader James van Riemsdyk tallied his fourth shorthanded goal of the year to jolt some energy into his withering club.
But BC answered back in the Wildcat zone when Matt Price dished the puck to Bradford by the right post. The pass beat Foster as Bradford was easily able to tap it in the open net for his second goal of the night.
UNHs Paul Thompson got a penalty for holding the stick at 15:16, but that did not stop his team’s aggression as they got their second short-handed goal when Butler went one on one with Muse, beating the Eagle net minder to cut the deficit to three.
The Wildcats carried the momentum into the third stanza opening it with another goal by van Riemsdyk when he nabbed his 17th of the year at 2:52 making it 5-3 and the final goal of the game.
As the defending national champions, the Eagles have steadily declined in the rankings throughout the regular season, but history speaks for itself when looking at BC’s stellar postseason track record.
“Without question, we have not been consistent throughout the course of the year,” said York. “So this game gives us great momentum, gives us great confidence. But as a group and a coaching staff, we fully understand the task in front of us; to get to the Garden we have to win another game here at the Whitt.”
The two teams face off again Saturday night for the second quarterfinal game in a best of three series in Durham.