CHESTNUT HILL, Mass. — Advantage Boston College.
That’s the scenario entering the final night of the Hockey East regular season and the race for the league title thanks to a 4-0 Eagles win on Friday over New Hampshire.
The win gives BC (25-7-1 overall, 19-6-1 in Hockey East) a one-point edge over the Wildcats for first place in the Hockey East standings, setting up a winner-take-all matchup on Saturday in the final game of the regular season. The Eagles would also claim their first regular-season title in 2004-05 with a tie on Saturday night.
Friday’s game was all Boston College from the outset. New Hampshire (19-8-6, 17-5-4) mustered just 12 shots on the night as goaltender John Muse earned his third shutout of the season. Boston College’s defense bottled up the Wildcats and slowed their transition, particularly in the neutral zone and never allowed UNH to establish a forecheck.
At the same time, the Eagles special teams were near perfect, going 1-for-3 on the power play, killing all three UNH man advantage opportunities and adding two shorthanded goals for good measure.
“I thought our team played very well,” said BC head coach Jerry York. “We played solid defensively and we kept our composure and did not take a lot of penalties.
“Our objective was to put ourselves in a position to play for a championship and to do that we had to have some points from tonight’s game to send us to tomorrow’s game with the trophy on the line.”
The only negative in the game for Boston College came in the form of an injury as star forward Chris Kreider broke his jaw midway through the second period. With BC killing a penalty, Kreider took a clearing attempt just below the facemask and immediately fell to the ice writhing in pain. He was taken to Tufts Medical Center in Boston and it was unclear the severity of the injury or whether any surgery would be needed.
“We’ll have to wait for the doctors,” said York when asked the initial prognosis on how long Kreider will be out of action. “All we know now is the jaw was broken.”
The Eagles absolutely dominated the first two periods, allowing New Hampshire just three shots in the first period and a total of nine shots through two.
BC scored once in each of the first two frames to take a 2-0 lead into the third. That could’ve been much worse, though, if not for the play of UNH netminder Matt DiGirolamo (38 saves).
Brian Gibbons got the Eagles on the board on the power play at 8:34 if the first. Picking up a loose puck behind the net, Gibbons walked out and fired a backhanded from DiGirolamo’s right that slid through his legs for the 1-0 lead.
BC had ample opportunities to expand that lead, most notably a bid from rookie Patrick Brown at the 11 minute mark. Alone in front, he redirected a shot that required DiGirolamo to move quickly to his left to make the stop.
In the second, New Hampshire had its chance to draw even on its first power play of the night when Joe Whitney was whistled for hooking at 8:22. Instead, though, forward Phil DeSimone, playing the point on the power play, coughed up the puck in his defensive end allowing Gibbons to feed a quick pass that Cam Atkinson buried at 9:50 for the 2-0 Eagles lead.
“DeSimone wanted to pass the puck to [Blake] Kessel, and I just got a stick on it,” said Atkinson of the goal. “Luckily [Gibbons] was right there to pick it up and it was a nice little tic-tac-toe play.”
If UNH had any sniff at getting back into the game, it was early in the third when they seemed to have the jam to finally establish a forecheck against the Eagles. Out of that, though, the Wildcats mustered just one grade ‘A’ attempt, a two-on-one where Steve Moses chose to shoot and Muse made the save look routine.
Midway through the period, Atkinson scored his second of the night, batting a puck out of midair and past DiGirolamo. It took a six-minute review of the play by the officials before they determined when Atkinson made contact with the puck, that portion of the stick was below the crossbar.
Bill Arnold closed out the scoring for the Eagles scoring the Eagles second shorthanded tally of the night with 3:54 remaining to end an extremely frustrating night for New Hampshire.
“BC won all the battles,” said UNH head coach Dick Umile. “Tomorrow’s another day. We’ll see what happens.”