CHESTNUT HILL, Mass. — It’s almost automatic for the Eagles at this point.
Another efficient forecheck. Another Johnny Gaudreau goal. Another early -and secure — lead.
In a much-hyped showdown of the top two teams in Hockey East, it was another Friday night stroll for No. 1 Boston College, as the Eagles shut out No. 7 Massachusetts-Lowell, 3-0, in front of 6,524 at Conte Forum.
Thatcher Demko earned his second shutout of the season for BC, stopping 33 Lowell shots.
The win extended the Eagles’ unbeaten run to 17 games, while upending Lowell’s comparatively short run of six games.
Just one week removed from capturing the Hockey East regular season championship, it was as clinical a performance Boston College has put in all season.
“Even though we’ve won a trophy, we’ve got to stay hungry and get better,” Eagles coach Jerry York said. “Your stomach is full, so how do you stay hungry? In the NFL, you rest your best players, but that’s not how we wanted to approach this.”
Instead, the Eagles didn’t skip a beat, though they didn’t lean too heavily on their top scorers.
“Tonight might have been as strong a 60 minutes we’ve seen all year,” York said. “We weren’t content to sit around and wait for the playoffs.”
Lowell’s attack was stifled by a suffocating backcheck from Boston College, limiting entries over the BC blue line and protecting Thatcher Demko with active sticks and shot blocking all game long.
“We didn’t have enough push-back tonight to make a hard game for them,” River Hawks coach Norm Bazin said. “We did a lot of watching tonight.”
Though it was a relatively even first period, the River Hawks found out that a tiny mistake can be costly. At 13:01, Adam Chapie entered the Eagles’ zone on a penalty kill, but in an attempt to turn the puck back up the boards to neutral ice for a fellow blue sweater, he instead gave it away.
The ensuing four-on-two rush for the Eagles got Gaudreau open down the left-wing boards and he ripped the puck off the cross bar and in to give the Eagles the lead.
However, after a three-minute spurt in the offensive zone, the tide seemed to turn in Lowell’s favor. The River Hawks were summarily rewarded after Isaac Macleod checked Jake Suter up high, drawing a five-minute major penalty and a game misconduct for contact to the head.
The ensuing penalty kill was especially critical, since Macleod is one of the Eagles’ top penalty killers and fellow defenseman Mike Matheson was unable to dress for the game due to a concussion sustained last week.
While the River Hawks forced their best barrage of the night onto Demko, the Eagles received a reprieve via heady shot blocking.
“It was unbelievable,” Demko beamed. “I think [Patrick Brown] took one off the inside of the foot, and I know that kills. Then I think he got back up and blocked another. We had guys through the rotation that were just eating pucks the entire time.
“There were one or two redirects on their [major] that got through to net, but our ‘D’ did a great job boxing guys out so that they didn’t get second and third chances.”
The Eagles nearly added to their lead on that same kill with a wild short-handed chance for Quinn Smith. Smith was alone entering the zone, but got upended by Connor Hellebuyck (31 saves) who lunged forward aggressively out of his crease and laid out on his belly to spear the puck away.
With the penalty killed off and a 1-0 lead in their back pocket, the Eagles picked up the dagger 3:15 into the third period when freshman Adam Gilmour, camped out in front of the Lowell net, redirected a shot from fellow rookie Scott Savage to double the lead and effectively put the Eagles in cruise control.
“We didn’t have enough offensive zone time, and we’ve been better than that,” Bazin said. “We certainly earned what we got tonight.”
A third freshman, Austin Cangelosi, added his 10th goal of the season minutes later, but the outcome was well in hand for the Eagles, who extended their unbeaten run to 18, just one shy of a program record with York as coach.
The two teams will finish their season series tomorrow night with a rematch in Lowell, Mass.