BOSTON — It’s not too often you hear about Boston University being an underdog in the Beanpot.
In Monday night’s semifinal nightcap of the 62nd Beanpot, the Terriers proved to be an underdog with a lot of fight, but even that fight simply wasn’t enough to beat one of the nation’s hottest teams as No. 2 Boston College held on through some difficult moments late, leading 2-1, before netting an empty-netter with 30.5 seconds remaining for a 3-1 victory.
Semifinals: Feb. 3
• Third place: Harvard 6, Boston University 2
• Championship: Boston College 4, Northeastern 1 | Once again, Boston College finds another gear to extend Beanpot stranglehold | For Northeastern, more than a quarter-century of close calls but no Beanpot titles
While special teams provided an early lift for the Eagles, with Ryan Fitzgerald scoring on the power play at 4:04 of the first, it nearly proved an Achilles heel midway through the game when the Eagles couldn’t convert on a five-minute major power play after BU’s Doyle Somerby was whistled from checking from behind at 11:33 of the second.
The Eagles led, 2-0, at the time, but instead of extending the lead, BU’s penalty kill forced countless turnovers and had solid scoring opportunities forcing BC goaltender Thatcher Demko (27 saves) to stand tall.
“BU took the momentum right away from us [on the major],” said Boston College coach Jerry York. “We kind of weathered the power play. You don’t usually say that.”
From there, BU manufactured countless opportunities, finally drawing within a goal at 6:43 of the third period when Robbie Baillargeon took advantage of a BC turnover, blasting a shot through traffic that beat Demko.
But it was the minutes that led up to the BU goal that will be most remembered.
Puck luck proved not to be on BU’s side as the Terriers hit iron three times while trailing by two.
And while Boston University coach David Quinn praised his team for the effort on Monday, it was a lack of puck luck that may have been the Terriers’ kryptonite.
“I don’t want to rely on luck, but it’s certainly nice to have it,” said Quinn. “Against a team like BC, you need a little luck. You need great goaltending, you need to be thorough and you need a little luck. We got two of the three.”
Boston University controlled play territorially in the first period, holding a 10-5 advantage in shots on goal. The Boston College defense, though, did a good job of controlling the front of the net, limiting grade ‘A’ chances.
The Eagles grabbed a lead when Fitzgerald beat BU netminder Matt O’Connor (29 saves) for his eighth of the season on the power play.
But the storyline was BC’s top line of Johnny Gaudreau, Bill Arnold and Kevin Hayes – the hottest line in the nation – that was nearly invisible in the opening period.
That ended just 1:20 into the second when the trio connected. BU neutralized Gaudreau on a rush, but as the puck bounced off his stick, Arnold grabbed it, drawing two defenders and slid a quick pass to Hayes, who buried it into the empty net for his 20th goal of the season.
The assist for Gaudreau extended his point-scoring streak to a nation-best 22 games.
After BC failed to capitalize on the five-minute power play late in the second, it was BU’s turn to seize momentum.
Early in the third, a holding penalty to Arnold put BU on the power play where good puck movement led to back-to-back point-blank chances for Evan Rodrigues. Not just once, but twice, his shots hit iron – once off the post, the other off the crossbar – as Demko and the Eagles breathed a sigh of relief.
Just over a minute later at 4:09, a wild passing play led to another BU chance at an open net. This time, it was rookie Kevin Duane lunging at the puck only to hit the left post, the rebound falling under Demko.
All of the frustration for the Terriers ended with Baillargeon’s goal at 6:43, cutting the Eagles’ lead to 2-1.
While BC settled down defensively after the goal, BU got the look it hoped for with the goalie pulled and 45 seconds remaining. Duane redirected a pass from Rodrigues that Demko used his left shoulder to turn aside.
“It was a pretty in-close deflection,” said Demko. “I just tried to get a shoulder or elbow on it and I ended up getting it with my jersey.”
Just 10 seconds later, BC cleared the zone and Gaudreau potted his nation-best 24th goal of the year to ice the game.
The win makes Boston College (20-4-3) the first team in the country to reach the 20-win plateau. It also sets up another championship game with Northeastern as BC is in search of its 19th Beanpot title all-time.
For BU (8-15-3), there are plenty of positives to take away from the game, something Quinn hopes can carry his team down the stretch in the regular season.
“I said to [the players], ‘We’ve got a lot of hockey left.’ But the season isn’t over,” explained Quinn. “We’ve got to build on this. We need to take this approach not just in the Beanpot, but in the rest of the season. And if we do that, we’re going to crawl back into this thing and put ourselves in a good position.”