DURHAM, N.H. — Boston College rallied from a 2-0 deficit to defeat New Hampshire, 4-3, and win its 11th Hockey East regular season title. The Eagles scored three straight goals to take the lead early in the third period and after UNH tied it, got the game-winner from Pat Mullane.
Although the Eagles have won two of the last three national championships, as well as Hockey East tournaments, the regular title had eluded them since 2005. That had been the domain of the Wildcats, who were bidding to win their fourth such title in five years.
“It’s quite an honor to win this trophy,” BC senior captain Joe Whitney said. “There’s a reason we haven’t won it the last few years. It’s not easy to win; it’s a hard trophy to win.
“It’s a testament to the guys and how hard they work every day in practice. It all added up to tonight.”
UNH had held at least a share of the league lead from Jan. 24 until Friday night, when the Eagles moved a point in front by dominating the Wildcats, 4-0, in the first half of the home-and-home series. Arguably, New Hampshire played a strong game that would have been enough against most opponents, just not against the second-ranked Eagles.
“It was a great hockey game, but a difficult one to lose because I thought we played well and they played well,” UNH coach Dick Umile said. “I was pleased with the way we played tonight and I don’t say that too many times when we lose.
“But I was proud of how we played, especially after last night. We went head-to-head and had an opportunity to win against a very, very good team. As far as I’m concerned, they’re the best that we’ve seen.”
The top-seeded Eagles will face Massachusetts in the Hockey East quarterfinals next weekend. Second-seeded UNH will face Vermont. Having fallen to 12th in the PairWise, the Wildcats may need to advance to Boston and the semifinals to make the NCAA tournament.
Based on this game, both teams will be battle-tested for those playoff series.
“The play of both teams fit very well with a championship game,” BC coach Jerry York said. “There was outstanding ebb-and-flow to the game. We were strong, they were strong. There was good goaltending at both ends of the ice.
“The compete level on both teams was terrific to watch. It had all the intensity of the championship game we anticipated on the bus ride up.”
UNH seized a 2-0 lead early in the second period and appeared to be intent on making up for the previous night’s domination at BC’s hands. In that game, they were outshot, 42-12, and outscored, 4-0. After one period on this evening however, the shots were 9-9 and UNH had taken a 1-0 lead.
Dalton Speelman got the goal at 18:05 on an odd-angle shot that BC netminder John Muse no doubt wanted back. The puck broke off his glove and slid toward the corner of the crease and went in.
Mike Sislo extended the lead to 2-0 on a power-play goal just 38 seconds into the second period. Firing from the left point without the aid of a screen, he beat Muse blocker side high. It was the UNH captain’s 12th of the year and 48th of his career.
For the next 10 minutes, it looked like the Wildcats were on their way to a win and another regular-season title, especially when Phil DeSimone and Sislo broke two-on-one while short-handed. DeSimone drew the defender over and passed to Sislo all alone in front. Muse atoned for his earlier soft goal with a huge save.
At 11:05 however, the Eagles drew to within one. Barry Almeida, who had moved up to the third line in the wake of Chris Kreider’s injury, backhanded a rebound in from the low slot.
Muse came up huge again when Speelman broke in all alone and the Wildcats then buzzed the net.
The game remained 2-1 until it turned dramatically with 13 seconds remaining in the period. Brian Dumoulin hit Cam Atkinson with a home run pass and the junior scored on the breakaway, deking DiGirolamo and stuffing it around him. It was Atkinson’s 27th goal on the season.
Following that pivotal strike, the two teams went at it in the third like heavyweight champions taking turns landing blows.
Mullane was in the thick of it. He hit the post one minute in, then minutes later fed Tommy Cross from the right corner after the defenseman dropped into the slot. Cross beat DiGirolamo glove side high.
Midway through the period, DeSimone collected the puck five feet outside of the crease as BC players dove to cover it up and backhanded it into the corner of the net.
With 4:53 left in regulation and right after an icing by UNH that might have been avoided, Mullane put a rebound of a Cross shot into a wide open net.