BOSTON — Boston College celebrated its 2010 national championship with pregame festivities culminating in the raising of its title banner but then had to struggle to defeat Merrimack, 3-2. The Eagles didn’t lead until the 5:09 mark of the third period, needing two power-play goals and 30 saves from John Muse to pull out the win.
Special teams dominated throughout. From late in the first period to early in the third, Merrimack was assessed eight straight penalties including two extended 5-on-3s. BC recorded 26 of its 42 shots on the man advantage.
“It was a gritty win for our team,” BC head coach Jerry York said. “The game was fractured by so many penalties on both sides. Two points are hard to get so we’re excited about getting two points on Banner Night.”
The celebration may have played some part in BC’s slow start.
“It was a hard thing for our team and our staff to switch gears so quickly, to go from the celebration to the hockey game,” York said. “I thought we handled it better as the night went along.”
Merrimack appeared to be in good shape for much of the game, playing particularly well in the second period until the first of the 5-on-3 disadvantages, which it killed. Even after surrendering the tying goal on a second 5-on-3, the Warriors still entered the third tied 1-1 and retook the lead in the first minute on a Ryan Flanagan breakaway after he came out of the penalty box.
“They have a really good coach,” BC defenseman Patrick Wey said. “He throws a lot of different looks at us, a couple forechecks we don’t usually see.”
BC battled back with two goals in the span of a minute and a half to secure the win. The first came on an innocuous-looking shot from the left side by Paul Carey. The game-winner came when Joe Cannata, who’d otherwise played exceptionally well and finished with 39 saves, came far out of the net only to see the puck carom to the goal crease where Pat Mullane tapped it in.
In taking its first loss, Merrimack could point to the need to take few penalties but also feel good about how well it played overall and on the special teams in particular. The Warriors held BC to two power-play goals in 11 opportunities.
“It’s hard to blame Joe Cannata for anything tonight,” Merrimack coach Mark Dennehy said. “We were excellent [on the penalty kill] tonight. It begins ands with the guy in the net. He was stupendous.
“But we’ve also got guys with courage, blocking shots, taking passing lanes away. The hard part is that you start to shorten your bench and that wears on you.
“But hey, at the end of the second period it was 1-1. We had to kill seven and it was 1-1, so it was a game.
“You could tell from our team all week that we were looking forward to this weekend. That type of mental approach goes a long way. I thought we were pretty strong late in the game.”
The first period opened with the Eagles and Warriors swapping quality scoring opportunities, most notably BC’s Cam Atkinson and Joe Whitney along with Merrimack’s Carter Madsen. However, no one capitalized until Merrimack scored a power-play goal at 6:29. Defenseman Karl Stollery fired a shot from the point that beat John Muse thanks to a screen by Brandon Brodhag.
The Eagles appeared to have tied it later that period, but after video tape review Paul Carey was ruled to have redirected the puck into the net with his skate.
Merrimack held the upper hand through the second period until incurring a 1:14 5-on-3 advantage at the 12:54 mark. The Warrior penalty killers, however, did a nice job of minimizing the damage and goaltender Joe Cannata was sharp. Together, they stymied the Eagles.
That time. On the sequel, they were not as fortunate.
Minutes after the first kill, another Warrior skated to the penalty box and at 18:18 two more teammates joined him.
At 19:28, with the BC 5-on-3 power play still in effect, Cam Atkinson finally got the Eagles on the board. With Canatta down and out, Atkinson roofed a backhander into the net to tie the game.
Merrimack’s penalties paid off in an indirect way with Flanagan’s breakaway goal coming out of the box, but the 2-1 lead proved short-lived with Carey tying it and Mullane winning it with the easy tap-in.
BC defenseman Tommy Cross, who has battled knee injuries, sprained his left knee and will be out for three to six weeks. No surgery will be required.
The two teams play the back end of their home-and-home series at Merrimack on Saturday.