BOSTON — It was legendary NBA head coach Pat Riley who is credited with coining the term “three-peat.”
On Saturday night, it was Boston College that achieved it.
For the first time in the 28-year history of the Hockey East tournament, a team has captured three straight titles after BC defeated a pesky Maine team 4-1 in front of 13,079 at the TD Garden.
The Eagles were led by a rookie, Johnny Gaudreau, who seems like a skilled veteran when on Garden ice having captured the Beanpot MVP in February before earning the identical honor in this tournament by netting four goals and three assists in BC’s four games.
Gaudreau broke a scoreless deadlock midway through the first period by potting not one, but two goals, in a span of 2:07 to give the Eagles the controlled they needed.
From there, the BC defense, which coach Jerry York admits hadn’t been as sharp of late as they were on Saturday, took over the game. While Maine was credited with 42 shots on the night, most were from the perimeter and those that were testers were turned aside by goaltender Parker Milner (41 saves).
“It’s huge with good offensive teams like Maine if you can limit them to a shot and no rebounds,” said BC captain and defenseman Tommy Cross. “Our team defense is central to our team’s role. Our forwards back pressure was as good as it’s been all year [on Saturday].”
The defensive effort was most impressive when the Eagles were shorthanded. Facing the second-best power play in the nation in Maine, which netted four goals with the man advantage in Friday’s 5-3 semifinal win over Boston University, BC stymied the Black Bears, holding them scoreless in five chances, including two key power plays late in the game when Maine was trying to claw its way back.
“Maine’s power play is one of the tops in the nation with five skilled guys who can move the puck around,” said Cross. “As a penalty kill, we just figured we’d attack them like we attack other power plays.”
While Maine started the started the game fast – first-line center Brian Flynn had a point-blank bid just 10 seconds into the game – it was Gaudreau who took over the first frame.
His two goals were near identical – rebound shots after attempts from the point got through screens – and gave the Eagles a major boost. The first came at 5:24 and then, after Maine was whistled for the first penalty of the game on an ill-advised hit by Joey Diamond at 7:22, it took Gaudreau and the Eagles just nine seconds to bury his second.
Maine, playing shorthanded after losing its top scorer and arguably one of the best forwards in the nation in Spencer Abbott on Friday, tried to come back. Regrouping during the first intermission, Maine had swagger in the second and pulled within one at 7:37 of the second when Flynn roofed a shot from the slot after Diamond aptly cycled the puck behind the net and fed the puck goalmouth.
But as Maine began buzzing, BC was opportunistic scoring late in the frame to regain the two-goal lead.
This time, it was Gaudreau setting up the tally by making a no-look centering pass to Pat Mullane, who one-timed it past Maine goalie Dan Sullivan (39 saves) at 18:39 to give the Eagles the 3-1 cushion heading to the third.
Maine threw everything it had at the BC net in the final frame but that was when Milner was his sharpest, turning aside all 17 Maine shots. When Barry Almeida buried his 22nd of the year into an empty net with 1:01 remaining, the Eagles celebrated their fifth Hockey East title in six years and record 11th overall.
Even with the loss, Maine’s season will continue as they will join the Eagles, Boston University and Massachusetts-Lowell in the NCAA tournament when the field of 16 is announced on Sunday.
While Saturday’s loss stings, the knowledge this isn’t the end of the road can ease that pain.
“That’s a big hockey game we just played in; we know that,” said Flynn. “Going to the regional for the first time since I’ve been here, there is going to be some of the same pressure. So hopefully, we can learn from that.”