CHESTNUT HILL, Mass. — Its college hockey playoff time and nowhere was that evident more than at Kelley Rink on Friday as Massachusetts and host Boston College played a prototypical postseason game.
With UMass fighting for its playoff lives it gave the Eagles, themselves battling for the league crown, everything they could handle.
But when the chips were down, it was a young rookie who made the biggest play of the game.
Eighteen-year old Chris Kreider scored at 2:02 of overtime, his ninth goal in 11 games, to lead BC to a hard-fought, 2-1, victory over the Minutemen and send the crowd of 4,872 into pandemonium.
The play began in the neutral zone when Steven Whitney broke up a play at BCs defensive blue line and fed a pass to rookie Pat Mullane. Mullane then turned on the jets and skating with the speedy Kreider turned a 2-on-3 rush into a 2-on-1. Krieder the buried a perfect pass at the left post past UMass netminder Paul Dainton (31 saves) and set off the victory celebration.
I thought I got caught in a line change and then we did a great job of stripping [UMass] of the puck, said Kreider of the play. I had to go to the post hard. Pat Mullane was pushing me up the wing. I had to keep up with him. Pat set the pace [of the rush] and made that goal happen.
The goal gave BC (20-10-2 overall, 15-8-2 in Hockey East) a victory which clinches home ice and, combined with UNHs 4-4 tie with Northeastern, pulls the Eagles within a point of the first-place Wildcats and allows them to control their destiny heading into a final weekend two-game showdown with UNH next weekend.
We talked about [prior to last Sundays game] that if we won four games wed be co-champions, said BC head coach Jerry York. Weve won two.
But with UNH dropping one point at Northeastern on Friday, that hope for a co-championship now turns the potential for a stand-alone title.
On the other end of the spectrum, UMass (16-16-0, 11-14-0 Hockey East) came to BC Friday knowing that their playoff life was at stake. Despite entering the night in seventh place, upset victories for Vermont over Boston University and Merrimack over Maine dropped the Minutemen to a tie for eighth place with Vermont. The Minutemen currently own the tie breaker with the Catamounts, but also have played one more game than Vermont.
I asked my guys to come in here and battle and I thought they did that, said UMass coach Don Toot Cahoon. But obviously were dealing with bottom lines here and we didnt get the bottom line. Its a sullen locker room right now. A dissatisfied locker room given the effort that they made.
UMass certainly did their best in one area of the game it could control, not taking a single penalty in the game that wouldve unleashed a white-hot BC power play. That, though, ultimately wasnt enough thanks to timely goal scoring for the Eagles combined with a spectacular 34-save performance by BC rookie Parker Milner.
Parker was exceptional in goal, said York. He made some really terrific saves throughout the game.
It was Milners third start over John Muse and his third straight win, having allowed just two goals in those three games.
Asked if Milner had won the starting job, though, York was non-committal.
Were still evaluating, said York. But Parker has put a pretty statement out that he can play and hes ready.
The Eagles had the best of the early chances, most notably two bids early that hit the post. Cam Atkinson rang one of the left post attempting to finished a 2-on-1 with Brian Gibbons at 6:49. Shortly thereafter, Joe Whitney skate down the right wing and rifled off a shot that beat Dainton cleanly but clanged off the far post.
BC held a 13-8 shot advantage in the first but neither team could get on the board.
That changed quickly in the second when Atkinston redirected a Patrick Wey shot just 18 seconds into the frame to give the Eagles a 1-0 lead. Its the 18th time this season that UMass has allowed the first goal of the game, posting a 6-11-0 record when doing so prior to Friday.
While it looked like the Eagles would carry the 1-0 lead into the third, UMass found a response late. Captain Brett Watson fired home his first goal in 82 games, finishing off a feed from Danny Hobbs with 2:19 remaining in the frame to knot things heading for the third.
Neither team could get much going offensively in the third thought the Eagles certainly threatened in the closing seconds. Philip Samuelsson fired a shot from the left point that Atkinson deflected just wide of the right post. Gibbons sat alone at the post but was simply too deep to stuff the loose puck and instead hit the side of the net just before the closing buzzer.