TAMPA, Fla. — The Boston College train just keeps on rolling.
The BC Eagles are headed back to the national title game after a dismantling of the nation’s top offense, Minnesota, 6-1, at the Tampa Bay Times Forum on Thursday in a game where the Gophers were able to control the play for extended periods of time but the Eagles were able to capitalize on every Minnesota mistake.
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While BC rolled through the regional, controlling the flow in wins over Air Force and Minnesota-Duluth, on Thursday the team struggled defensively against the potent Gophers offense. But that’s where goaltender Parker Milner, who won his and BC’s 18th straight game on Thursday, played the role of hero.
“When I looked at the game, I thought Parker Milner made some very timely saves early in the game where I thought Minnesota was pressing,” said BC coach Jerry York. “They had some excellent opportunities to score, not just one but multiple times. Parker was just big in the net.”
The game, in essence, swung in a short stretch late in the second period. With 2:33 remaining, Minnesota’s Jake Hansen took advantage of a BC defensive breakdown and was alone in front on Milner. Milner moved quickly to square to the shot and made what should have been a difficult save — one of the 30 he made on the night — look easy.
Just 18 seconds later, the Eagles took advantage of a Minnesota turnover when Chris Kreider buried a no-look pass from Destry Straight on a two-on-one break to stretch a 2-0 BC lead to 3-0.
Less than two minutes later, BC again moved in transition, this time with Johnny Gaudreau getting hauled down and making a pass from his knee that Paul Carey tucked into an open net to stretch the lead to 4-0.
At that point, it was lights out.
“That’s a Grade A scoring chance in front of the net,” Hansen said of his failed bid. “If I score there, it would be 2-1 and we’d be right back in the game. They end up scoring on the next shift. That just kills you.”
While the Eagles admittedly allowed Minnesota (28-14-1) an ample number of chances — more than they would like — they were successful at exposing one of the Gophers’ weaknesses: their penalty kill. The Gophers entered Thursday’s semifinal with the 36th-ranked penalty kill in the nation. BC scored twice in four power-play opportunities while keeping Minnesota off the board in its four chances with the man advantage.
Despite being outshot 10-5 in the opening period, it was Boston College that took a 1-0 lead into the first intermission.
The Eagles used a perfect transition play to score the frame’s lone goal. Steven Whitney and Barry Almeida worked a nifty give-and-go, with Whitney making a pass at the offensive blue line and Almeida returning the favor with a goalmouth feed that Whitney redirected past Gophers goaltender Kent Patterson (19 saves) at 6:03.
Early in the second, BC extended the lead on the power play. Just eight seconds after Minnesota’s Nate Schmidt was sent off for hooking, Tommy Cross made a pretty feed to Kevin Hayes at the left faceoff dot. Hayes roofed a laser-like shot past the blocker side at 6:35.
After the goal, Minnesota carried the play for nearly 10 minutes and had plenty of scoring chances. That’s when the turning-point sequence that made a two-goal game a four-goal game broke the Gophers’ spirit.
“Up until that point [BC's third goal], I thought we deserved a little bit better,” said Minnesota coach Don Lucia. “When it went from two to four in a couple of minutes, that was the game.”
Minnesota did get a glimmer of hope early in the third when a centering pass at 1:26 deflected off Hansen’s skate and past Milner, ending a shutout streak of 193 minutes, 49 seconds that dated to the Hockey East title game.
That hope, though, was dashed just 22 seconds later when Gaudreau found Carey in the slot for a one-timer that beat Patterson, giving BC a 5-1 lead.
A power-play goal by Brian Dumoulin with 14:09 remaining accounted for the final.
BC (32-10-1) advances to the national title game for the fifth time in seven years, and that makes Friday’s final practice of the season quite enjoyable for York and the team.
“We always talk to our team about the very best practice being the one between the semifinal game and the national championship game,” said York. “We have a lot of practices during the year, but that’s the special one.”