CHESTNUT HILL, Mass. — It was hardly the easiest test, but the top-seeded Boston College Eagles passed their first exam of the postseason with a hard-fought, 2-1 victory over No. 8 seed Massachusetts Friday, giving the Eagles a 1-0 lead in the best-of-three Hockey East quarterfinal series at Kelley Rink.
The BC offense was limited to just 18 shots on the night by a tenacious forechecking Minuteman squad. The Eagles, though, scored twice in 39 seconds late in the middle frame and then held off UMass in the third when Danny Hobbs cut the lead to 2-1 with 13:05 remaining.
Eagles netminder Parker Milner was sharp when called upon late and earned his 12th straight victory, finishing the game with 25 saves.
“You could feel the type of playoff intensity off of both teams,” said BC coach Jerry York. “It was a battle. Every shift was a battle.”
For the better part of the first two periods, UMass seemed a more-than-formidable opponent for the Eagles, controlling the flow of play, generating scoring chances, and forcing the Eagles to shoot mostly perimeter shots.
Nothing seemed able to deter the Minutemen, not even an 18-minute delay caused by a power outage at a local switch house that darkened Kelley Rink midway through the first.
The Minutemen, in fact, thought they took the lead at 10:01 of the second when Steve Guzzo redirected a centering past into an open net. The officials, though, reversed the call of goal after reviewing the replay, ruling that Guzzo used his skate, not his stick, to put the puck into the net.
“The referees called that [play] the way they felt according to the book,” said UMass coach Don ‘Toot’ Cahoon. “They felt there was enough question as to whether it was directed or not, so they called it how they saw it. They weren’t sure whether it was directed, but they weren’t sure that it wasn’t.
“They took the conservative approach and called it back. Sometimes it’s the luck of the draw.”
That play seemingly turned the tide, and before the second period concluded, it was the Eagles who held a 2-0, lead despite getting just three shots on UMass goaltender Kevin Boyle.
Pat Mullane broke the deadlock at 17:46 when he created space and fired a low shot that appeared to change direction not once, but twice. Mullane said as he thought the puck immediately hit the ice and began to rise. From there, it appeared to hit a UMass player’s shin and deflect past Boyle (16 saves).
Before the 3,188 in attendance could finish celebrating, the Eagles struck again. Senior captain Tommy Cross fired a seeing-eye shot through traffic to the net, beating Boyle over the left shoulder at 18:25 for the 2-0 lead.
Both goals were set up by rookie phenom Johnny Gaudreau.
“The kid’s got great vision,” said Cross of the freshman Gaudreau. “He made a great pass over a couple of sticks and one of their forwards came out at me. That provided a screen for their goaltender.”
Sporting a 17-0-1 record this season when leading after two, BC should have been confident heading to the third. However, the never-say-die Minutemen gave BC everything it could handle. And when Danny Hobbs redirect Michael Marcou’s shot to break Milner’s shutout, it appeared the equalizer could be near.
That was when BC’s defense clamped down and Milner, when called upon, was solid.
The win marks the third straight season in which BC has opened a 1-0 lead on Massachusetts in the quarterfinal round. Each year, BC has completed the series sweep.
If that is to be avoided tomorrow night, Cahoon and his club will need to make some tweaks to the team and get a gutsy performance with the season on the line.
“There are a few Xs and Os, but obviously passion and compete level plays a part of every game, and certainly always comes into the equation in the playoffs,” said Cahoon. “They’ll play with plenty of passion and compete level tomorrow night. We need to be able to push back and get a few of those lucky breaks along the way.”