CHESTNUT HILL, Mass. – No. 11 Notre Dame’s bid for three straight wins at Conte Forum fell victim to a resurgent offense from No. 2 Boston College on Saturday afternoon. Kevin Hayes scored once and Johnny Gaudreau chipped in two en route to a nine-point night for the Eagles’ top scoring line, as the Eagles answered the Irish with a 4-2 win.
The loss snapped the Irish’s eight-game unbeaten run and forces a decisive third game on Sunday afternoon.
Noting the differences between game one and game two, Irish coach Jeff Jackson pointed to two things: officiating (eight penalties whistled in the first period, compared to three on Friday), and the reemergence of the Eagles’ top line.
“BC’s top line played like the best line in college hockey,” Jackson remarked, “Punch, counterpunch. You expect that from a great team.”
It wasn’t a pure role reversal from Friday night, as the Irish controlled the puck in the early stages and held the Eagles at bay for long stretches, especially in the second period.
However, the offensive flurries for BC were more frequent, more furious, and ultimately, more successful.
“Our work ethic was better tonight, I thought our battles were better tonight,” Eagles coach Jerry York said. “We got a big push out of Billy Arnold’s line, and Johnny in particular was really on top of his game tonight.”
The prevailing expectation was that the Eagles would come out of the gate firing, but it was Notre Dame’s Bryan Rust who blasted in the first goal, just 39 seconds into the game.
With Shayne Taker and Andy Ryan manning their posts along the blue line, Ryan slid the puck along the line to a waiting Rust, who fired it into the back of the net for his third goal in as many games.
The pressure continued for the Irish, drawing a roughing penalty from Quinn Smith and a desperation holding penalty from Patrick Brown, who prevented a bad neutral zone giveaway from turning into a second Irish goal.
Moments after the Brown penalty expired, the tide turned, and the Eagles emerged from their malaise.
At 10:28 into the first period, BC captain Patrick Brown escaped the penalty box right as Bill Arnold outletted the puck, creating a three-on-one rush. With Gaudreau scooting down the left wing, the puck was fed back in front to Brown for the finish, tying the score at 1-1.
“A key to the game was that we gave up an early goal, but the bench didn’t sag at all,” York said.
If nothing else, the tying goal jolted the Eagles to life for the first time in the series, as they quickly took control of the game’s pace and outshot the Irish 19-6 (aided by four power plays), surging ahead to take the lead, 2-1.
On a five-on-three power play at 17:39, the Eagles had plenty of room for their top scoring line to execute a tic-tac-toe goal, with Arnold from behind the goal feeding the puck to Kevin Hayes in the right circle, then on to Gaudreau for the back-door finish.
“We just came out a lot harder tonight,” Gaudreau said afterwards. “We established a great forecheck in the early part of the game.”
The first period saw eight penalties called, though the Irish had three power play chances that came up empty.
“There was no flow to [the first period] with all the penalties, and it really was the difference in the game,” Jackson said. “Our power play really hurt us. I thought that it actually gave them momentum.”
Much to the credit of Jackson’s squad, the Irish responded by calming the game back to a more contained pace in the second period.
That was the only period in which the Irish were able to impose their will, as the Eagles tacked on two more in the third period to pull away.
The eventual game-winner came from Kevin Hayes 5:58 into the third period, after a whiffed shot from Scott Savage at the blue line found Hayes wide open at the bottom of the left circle. Just 91 seconds later, Gaudreau followed it up with the dagger, scoring five-hole on Steven Summerhays (33 saves).
The loss sets up an intriguing elimination game tomorrow, with the winner advancing to the Hockey East semifinals.
“We’ve both played each other pretty tough over the last several games,” Jackson noted. “They’ll [all] be tired. College kids aren’t used to three games in three days.”