The postgame analysis for Boston College condenses to just one stat: 0-for-7. Time and again Maine gave the Eagles a man advantage, and repeatedly BC was unable to solve Jimmy Howard.
While futility on the power play is nothing new to the Eagles — they entered the game with a 16.9 percent conversion rate — special-teams success seemed more pertinent when facing a netminder who is trying to set the NCAA record for lowest goals against average in a season.
“[Maine’s] penalty killing was exceptional,” said Boston College coach Jerry York. “We had seven power plays and in these types of games you have to score a power-play goal. We could not do that.”
BC not only received numerous opportunities, but at opportune times. The Eagles received a 1:25 two-man advantage midway through the second period. After Maine survived that scare, it took a penalty with 1:42 remaining in the middle frame. And seconds after taking a 2-1 lead, it gave BC the chance to even the contest with a holding call.
Finally, with 5:37 to go in the third, BC received one final chance, and could not muster a single shot.
“In the second period, the play flipped and we took undisciplined penalties,” said Maine coach Tim Whitehead. “They got tons of chances.”
Maine fed off its penalty kill and it grew stronger as the game progressed. Most of the Eagles’ 10 power-play shots came in the first 30 minutes, and Howard stood on his head during that time. Later on, Maine’s second-team All-American, Prestin Ryan, asserted himself, patrolling the front of the net and slinging the puck down the ice.
The Black Bears readily credited their goaltender.
“Having Jimmy back there is a big help for us,” said forward Jon Jankus, who scored Maine’s first goal. “We know all we have to do is play good defense and he’ll always make the first save.”
Howard turned the praise back to his defense.
“Prestin Ryan has been a leader all year on this team,” he said. “He plays so physical when he is on the top of his game.”
York broke it down to a number of factors.
“Maine defends the power play well, they get in your passing lanes,” he said. “As the game went on, the ice was getting chippy and it became difficult to make good passes. … But definitely [Howard] was their best weapon back there.”
Regardless of ultimate causes, the seminal moment came with Maine’s two-man kill, which encapsulated both the undisciplined play by Maine in the second period, its skill at negating the potential damage, and Howard’s brilliant play.
The sequence started legally enough when a BC attacker skated through the neutral zone and Maine defenseman Troy Barnes executed a picture-perfect hip check, but referee Derek Shepherd, trailing the play, disagreed, whistling him for clipping at 12:15. Thirty-five seconds later, Ryan showed the downside of his physical style when he unleashed a harsh crosscheck to the back of the head along the boards to give BC a two-man advantage.
For the next 1:25, the Eagles setup below the faceoff circle, working it around, but often eschewed a good shot for the perfect play as Maine’s deceptively-passive killers did their best to take away shooting lanes.
Maine forced BC to shoot high, which played right into Howard’s strong glove hand. In fact, the Black Bears’ best chance on the two-man advantage came when Patrick Eaves launched a blistering wrist shot alone from the low shot, which Howard snatched from the air.
Not only did the high shots maximize a Black Bear strength, they minimized the Eagles’ chances of capitalizing on superior numbers on rebounds.
“That was a pivotal moment in the game,” York said. “You are not going to score many goals against Howard and we thought it was probably critical to get one there.”
Michel Leveille capped the kill for the Black Bears as the Eagle point man tried to dip his shoulder around him for a good shot. Leveille, reminiscent of his strong penalty killing against Boston University in the Hockey East tournament, picked his pocket and sent the puck down the length of the ice as Ryan came out of the penalty box.
In fairness, if BC had managed to score early in the third period, the story could have been written in reverse. Maine went 0-for-3 and looked downright confused at times with the man advantage.
But the Eagles didn’t. They needed a goal from the power play and none came.
Back in the national championship, Maine gets a chance to atone for its 2002 loss to Minnesota and finally win that title for the memory of Shawn Walsh. The Black Bears lost that game to the Golden Gophers in overtime — on the penalty kill.
Denver better practice its five-on-five play Friday.