CHESTNUT HILL, Mass. — There may have been little to nothing on the line when No. 5 Boston College hosted No. 10 New Hampshire on Saturday night in the regular-season finale for both teams, but if that’s the case, no one told the players.
A night after UNH rallied for three third-period goals to earn a 3-3 tie against the Eagles and thus clinch the regular season title, the two clubs played an exciting, spirited game on Saturday in front of 7,148 at Kelley Rink. A Paul Carey goal for Boston College broke a 2-2 tie at 2:44 of the third period and the Eagles survived a late onslaught by the Wildcats to earn a 3-2 victory.
The game seemed like an afterthought with UNH locked in the top playoff seed and BC guaranteed to finish second. Still, the packed house of BC partisans was entertained by an Eagles’ offense that peppered UNH goaltender Brian Foster (39 saves).
“Thank God Brian was in the net,” said UNH coach Dick Umile. “They just out-skated us tonight.”
If anything, Saturday’s game was a confidence builder for Boston College. Twice this season, including Friday, BC blew a three-goal third period lead and had to settle for a tie.
Heading into the third on Saturday tied instead of nursing a big lead may have been the difference maker.
“We wanted to not take our foot off the peddle,” said BC captain Matt Price, insinuating that the need to break the tie made the team hungrier on Saturday. “I think we did that.”
BC looked like a team hungry for revenge from the get-go in Saturday’s rematch.
Jimmy Hayes was denied by Foster’s quick right pad at 2:11 and a little more than a minute later, Barry Almeida was stopped on a point-blank bid.
At 8:28, the Eagles got on the scoreboard when Joe Whitney finished off a nice give-and-go with Ben Smith. It was Whitney’s 13th goal of the season.
BC dominated the Wildcats, outshooting them, 15-5, in the frame, but despite the effort, Hobey Baker candidate Bobby Butler kept the Eagles from taking a lead to the locker room when he scored his 25th goal of the year with just 58.5 seconds remaining. Butler found room on the right side on a rush a sniped a shot over BC goaltender John Muse’s (16 saves) glove to knot the game at one.
In the second, the Eagles again were dominant, but Foster seemed unbeatable, and when Mike Beck scored on a breakaway, coming out of the penalty box to take a home run pass from Mike Sislo, with 58.3 seconds remaining, it seemed like dj vu all over again.
This time though, BC responded before the end of the frame. A wild scramble led to a rebound reaching defenseman Brian Dumoulin at the left point. With Foster out of position, the rookie fired a wrister in the open net for his first career goal with 3.3 seconds left.
“That was a big goal that Dumoulin scored at the end of the second,” said BC coach Jerry York. “It had like seeing eyes to it and he just kind of got it through.”
With the momentum back on their side, the Eagles wasted little time in the third regaining the lead. A broken play led to the puck finding Carey’s stick and the sophomore fired a quick shot over Foster’s glove at 2:44.
From there, the Eagles withstood UNH’s only real offensive threats of the game. Muse capped it off when he stopped Sislo on a one-time shot just before time expired to earn BC its league-best 16th win of the season.
Now the real season begins for both teams, as Boston College (21-10-3, 16-8-3 Hockey East) will host Massachusetts, which swept Maine this weekend to make the playoffs.
New Hampshire (16-11-7, 15-6-6 Hockey East), despite winning the regular season, will have a more precarious situation, as they host Vermont, a team still on the NCAA tournament bubble. The Wildcats, in fact, join the Catamounts on that bubble, and next weekend’s first place vs. eighth place playoff series could determine the NCAA fate for both UNH and Vermont.
Umile said he’s well aware that even as regular-season champions, there’s no guarantee of an NCAA bid.
“We need to get to Boston,” said Umile. “We know that.”