CHESTNUT HILL, Mass. — Entering Friday night’s opening game of the Hockey East quarterfinals, host and top seed Boston College knew that taking their opponent, Massachusetts, lightly wouldn’t be an option. And for good reason.
Prior to Friday, nine of the 12 playoff games that had been played across the country were won by the road team. And Boston College hardly had made easy work of the Minutemen in the regular season, earning two tough, one-goal wins just two weekends earlier.
That could be the reason that the Eagles played arguably one of their more complete games of the season, jumping out to a 3-0 lead en route to a 4-1 win in front of 2,868 at Kelley Rink. The win gives the Eagles a one games to none lead in the best-of-three quarterfinal series. Game 2 is slated for Saturday night at 7 p.m.
The Eagles used a balanced scoring attack leveraging two goals at even strength, one of the power play and one shorthanded. At the same time, goaltender John Muse was solid in net for the Eagles stopping 26 of the 27 shots he faced.
“We’re proud that we’ve won the first one,” said BC head coach Jerry York. “But it’s all business. You have to get that second [win] and it doesn’t come easy.”
BC had a solid night of special teams. The Eagles scored once in six power plays, killed seven of eight penalties and got a back-breaking shorthanded goal from Brian Gibbons midway through the game at put BC up, 3-0.
If there was any complaint of York, it was the fact that BC allowed the Minutemen so many chances on the power play.
“We still have to be more disciplined,” said York. “Each game is a challenge. You want to defend and you want to have a physical part of your game, but you also want to stay out of the penalty box.”
BC controlled the pace of play in the early going, though shots through the first period were even at nine a piece.
The Eagles scored the period’s only goal when Jimmy Hayes blasted home his 17th goal of the year, one-timing a Pat Mullane pass from the slot past Dainton at 10:31.
The second period featured a much faster pace, and as a result, significantly more offense from both teams.
BC began the period on with a 21 second power play after Marc Concannon was whistled for holding with 1:39 remaining in the first. That didn’t keep the Eagles offense off the board as Cam Atkinson banged home a second rebound of a Tommy Cross shot from the point just 14 second into the frame for the 2-0 lead.
The Eagles expanded that lead, this time shorthanded, as Brian Gibbons picked the pocket of a UMass blueliner and walked in untouched, sniping a shot over the shoulder of Dainton at 11:18.
The Minutemen answered, though, on the same power play as Danny Hobbs fired a shot from the top of the right faceoff circle that caught Muse moving to trim BC’s lead to 3-1.
It could’ve been much worse for the Minutemen as the Eagles had a number of top-notch scoring chances late, most notably a Kevin Hayes bid into what looked like a wide open net at 18:50. Dainton, though, somehow dove across and got just enough of the puck to deflected if off the post and wide to hold BC’s lead to two goals heading to the third.
BC put the Minutemen away early in the third when Barry Almeida buried a Steven Whitney feed at 2:30.
The loss puts the Eagles one win away from advancing to the Hockey East semifinals for the 19th time in program history and their seventh in a row. BC is looking to expand on its league-record nine Hockey East tournament titles.
For the Minutemen, a team that had to earn a tie on the final night of the regular season just to get into the playoffs, they are once again on the brink of their season’s end.
“That to me wasn’t a playoff effort on our part,” said UMass head coach Don ‘Toot’ Cahoon. “They know tomorrow it’s either produce or go home.”