WORCESTER, Mass. — After scoring only one goal in his last ten games, Boston College winger Chris Kreider single-handedly catapulted the No. 1 Eagles over fourth-seeded Air Force 2-0 in the NCAA Northeast Regional semifinals.
Responsible for both of BC’s tallies, Kreider was a one-man offensive machine in the Eagles’ 16th straight win – and sweetest victory to date – this season.
BC needed only Kreider’s first goal to advance to the regional finals for the tenth time with Eagles’ coach Jerry York at the helm.
Kreider secured the lead and the win at 7:39 in the first period, courtesy of a strong offensive effort from linemates Destry Straight and Kevin Hayes. Straight backhanded a pass down the left-side boards to Hayes, who curled around the net and drew Falcons’ netminder Jason Torf to the right post. Kreider took a cross-crease pass from Hayes on the tape and fired a one-timer into the twine past a sprawling Torf.
A humble Kreider credited his linemates with the game winner.
“Both Kevin [Hayes] and Destry [Straight] had unbelievable games,” Kreider said. “It was a really, really good play by those two.”
The loss marks the first time Air Force has been shut out this season and its fifth first-round exit from the regional tournament in six opportunities. Despite their lack of NCAA tournament success, the Falcons have lost by only one goal in each of their previous four losses, including three overtime defeats.
“I feel like I’m Bill Murray in ‘Groundhog Day,’” Air Force coach Frank Serratore said. “Here we are again.”
Tonight’s game was almost no different, as BC clung to its slim margin for exactly 51 minutes before Kreider potted an insurance goal on the man-advantage late in the final frame.
With Falcons’ defenseman Dan Weissenhofer serving time for cross-checking, Kreider backhanded a quick shot on Torf in the low slot. The rebound on the initial save danced back to Kreider, who rang his second effort off the right post. The third time was the charm for Kreider as he wrapped the rebound of his rebound around the right post at 18:39 to give the Eagles a 2-0 lead. Patrick Wey assisted on the goal.
Other members of the Eagles’ offensive core tried to contribute to Kreide’s effort, but were stymied by the Falcons’ suffocating defense.
“I thought there was a stretch in the second period where the play was just continuous,” York said. “During that stretch, we really had some outstanding chances – [winger] Johnny Gaudreau was in, [defenseman] Patch Alber was in, but we couldn’t get a red light and it stayed 1-0 through the game.”
One such grade ‘A’ chance came for the Eagles just four minutes in to the second period. On the rush, an unflanked Alber took a feed across the high slot. Alber nearly solved Torf with a bullet from the slot, but came up empty.
Minutes later, Gaudreau threatened to double BC’s lead when he blew past Air Force’s defenders and stick handled the puck through the low slot. Gaudreau’s fancy handiwork, which has netted the Eagles 19 goals and 39 points this season, failed to dazzle Torf.
Eagles’ netminder Parker Milner backstopped BC to victory with 20 saves. Miler has been integral to the Eagles’ fifth-ranked scoring defense, which has allowed a stifling 2.17 goals per game. In fact, BC has allowed only two or fewer goals in all but one game during its current winning streak.
“I think what was really key was that we really just shut them down offensively,” Milner said. “All the shots they had were from outside the dots.”
One of the Falcons’ best chances to net the equalizer came with just seconds before time expired in the first period. Air Force defenseman Adam McKenzie nearly capitalized on a great chance from the slot that went wide right on an open net just as the buzzer sounded.
“You gotta score goals to win games,” Serratore said. “There were some pucks that bounced around Milner and some shots we had and they just didn’t go for us. We needed to score that next goal in the third period.”
Special teams also hurt the Falcons, as they could not stymie the Eagles’ power play or take advantage on the penalty kill.
For example, with BC center Bill Arnold in the box for slashing late in the second period, Air Force could not penetrate Milner. In fact, the Falcons failed to find Milner at all during the man advantage. Air Force’s 17.3 percent power play – 32nd overall – was simply outmatched by the Eagles’ third-ranked penalty kill, which was operating at an 87.5 percent clip.
BC almost added to its league-leading shorthanded tallies when center Pat Mullane scooped up an errant puck that a Falcons’ defender left on his own blue line. Mullane broke in alone on Torf in the high slot, but Torf made the save roughly six minutes in to the final stanza.
Having exorcised the demons that bounced them from the first round of the regional tournament in 2011, the Eagles advance to the finals tomorrow to face the winner of the Maine-Minnesota-Duluth game.
“Last year at this time, we had an outstanding hockey team, a group of seniors that had won two national championships and trying to get that third one in their four-year career,” York said. “It was a tough, hard loss for us in St. Louis. You gotta have amnesia to coach and to play in these type of big games.”