CHESTNUT HILL, Mass. — The No.1 Boston College Eagles clinched at least a co-championship in Hockey East on Friday night with a 5-1 victory over Vermont in front of 5,527 at BC’s Kelley Rink.
The Eagles, who are two points ahead of Boston University entering the final day of the regular season, need either a win or tie on Saturday or a BU tie or loss. BU holds the tiebreaker for the top overall playoff seed should the Terriers win and the Eagles lose on Saturday.
Friday night though, BC took care of business. Paced by two goals from breakout senior Barry Almeida — his 20th and 21st of the season — along with a solid 29-save performance from Parker Milner, the Eagles won going away against a Vermont team that, despite being destined for last place in the league, gave BC all it could handle.
“Parker [Milner] gave us a real strong effort in goal,” said BC coach Jerry York. “He’s been one of the keys to our improved play down the stretch.”
Milner, who in the middle of the season took a backseat in the goaltender position, had won his last 10 games since being handed the reins in late January. On Friday, he may have made the win look routine, but in doing so stopped two Vermont breakaways and broke up a Catamounts two-on-one in the second period when the game’s outcome was very much in the balance.
“I think confidence and sticking with what I was doing and building off that is important,” said Milner. “I think everyone has gotten better. It’s not just me, it’s the whole team.”
The Eagles scored early on a fluke play when Paul Carey dumped a puck on goal from center ice. The innocent play resulted in the puck bouncing feet in front of Vermont netminder Rob Madore (22 saves) and through the senior’s legs for a 1-0 lead at 4:45.
Despite the Catamounts ability to settle down in the following minutes under intense BC pressure, the Eagles still grabbed a 2-0 lead at 8:28 when rookie Danny Linell finished off a Quinn Smith pass on the doorstep.
Vermont though, hardly went away quietly. On its third power play of the opening period, Vermont wasn’t able to score, but seconds after returning to full strength, Matt White fed H.T. Lenz, who beat Milner to cut the BC lead to 2-1 through one.
In the second, BC extended its lead on a power play. Kevin Hayes stole a puck at the right point and fed a pass to Bill Arnold, who found Almeida in the slot. All alone, Almeida seemingly didn’t have the space to shoot on Madore. Still, Almeida spun to his left in a 180-degree turn and roofed a highlight-reel shot top shelf to give the Eagles a 3-1 lead through two.
Vermont may have had hopes of a rally in the third and outshot the Eagles, 10-2, in the opening minutes. That’s when Milner was spectacular and, among his saves, stopped Mike Montagna on a breakaway.
BC, though, put the game away when Almeida fired home his second of the game, off a Vermont defenseman’s stick, at 8:40, and Steven Whitney scored into an empty net from center ice at 18:49 to account for the 5-1 final.
While Vermont’s playoff destiny has been long dashed, the team still hopes to rally on Saturday and potentially keep BC from earning the top overall seed in the Hockey East playoffs. Regardless of disappointment this season, such a win would be satisfaction for a senior class that led the Catamounts to two NCAA tournaments and an NCAA Frozen Four.
“[The players] are battling, and that’s all I can ask for as a coach,” said Vermont coach Kevin Sneddon. “As long as they can look each other in the eye and said they battled to the last buzzer of the season, we’ll keep our pride.”