CHESTNUT HILL, Mass. — Second ranked Boston College used an early offensive burst and, for the second straight night, held off a resilient Massachusetts team to skate away with a 2-1 victory in front of a sold out Kelley Rink on Saturday night.
The win sets up the ultimate Hockey East showdown next weekend as the Eagles (24-7-1 overall, 18-6-1 in Hockey East) and New Hampshire, a 6-3 winner over Northeastern on Saturday night, will square off a in home-and-home series beginning Friday night in Boston to decide the Hockey East regular season title. UNH holds a one point lead in the standings over BC.
“This is what you prepare for,” said BC junior winger Barry Almeida, who scored his team’s opening goal on Saturday. “To go into that last weekend with fate in our hands. We set our goals high and [the regular season title] is one of them.”
It’s the second straight season that the Eagles and Wildcats will duel it out in the final two regular season games. Last year, it was UNH that came out on top and the Eagles, despite plentiful success in the postseason, are in search of their first regular season Hockey East crown since 2005.
To even get into that position took two hard-fought efforts over eighth-place UMass on the weekend. Saturday, BC earned the victory despite missing key players in Tommy Atkinson (knee injury, 2-3 weeks), Paul Carey (hip pointer, day-to-day) and Patrick Wey, who blocked a shot in the second period Saturday and did not return. He’s expected to return to the lineup next weekend.
BC jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the opening 20 minutes by outskating and outworking the Minutemen. The lead could’ve, in fact, been larger if not for stellar play by Paul Dainton, who finished the game with 36 saves for the Minutemen.
Almeida got BC on the board at 7:35, flying down the right wing and firing a low shot far side on Dainton for the 1-0 lead.
BC got its first power play at 12:53 when defenseman Doug Kyblin was whistled for a slash during a faceoff. The Eagles capitalized just 10 seconds later as Pat Mullane blasted a one-timer on a pass from Chris Kreider over Dainton’s left shoulder for the 2-0 lead.
“We harp on power play draws and Jimmy Hayes snapped it right back,” said Mullane. “[Kreider] did a great job of getting Dainton down and I had the whole net to work with.”
The Eagles held a 14-9 shot advantage in the opening period but territorially that advantage was even greater.
The Minutemen played considerably better in the second, but still it was the Eagles that had the best opportunities. Patch Alber was stopped on a breakaway at the four-and-a-half minute mark. Then when a bad bounce off the glass on a clear-in caught Dainton out of the net, Kevin Hayes fanned on a shot with a wide open net at 16:27.
As so often happens, those missed opportunities haunted the Eagles as UMass drew within a goal at 17:03. Anthony Raiola’s shot from the left point deflected in front of BC netminder John Muse (24 saves) and landed on T.J. Syner’s stick. The junior had a wide open net to bury his seventh goal of the year at 17:03 to send a one-goal game to the third period.
In the third, BC clamped down defensively, allowing the Minutemen just seven shots and only one from the grade ‘A’ area. In the end, though it wasn’t pretty, it was enough to earn the win and set up next weekend’s showdown with New Hampshire.
UMass (6-20-5, 5-15-5) may have fallen for the second straight night but lost no ground as they battle for one of the final two playoff spots. Both Vermont and Providence lost on Saturday, leaving the Minutemen one point behind the seventh-place Catamounts and two points ahead of the ninth place Friars.
Thus, playoff destiny remains in the UMass’ hands.
“The thing that is absolutely straight forward is that it’s all in our hands,” said UMass head coach Don ‘Toot’ Cahoon, whose team will host Maine for two games next Friday and Saturday. “Whatever we get out of that weekend, we’ll deserve what comes after that.”