The irresistible force wins, but Boston College needed more to get past Massachusetts-Lowell

Boston College had to play well in front of goaltender Thatcher Demko to get past Massachusetts-Lowell (photo: Melissa Wade).

WORCESTER, Mass. — It was the classic matchup. The Irresistible Force against the Immovable Object.

The Boston College offense came into Sunday’s Northeast Regional championship game as the Irresistible Force. The Eagles offense led the country in scoring by a wide margin, averaging 4.11 goals per game.

It was fresh off a first-round smoking of Denver in which its seemingly unstoppable first line of Johnny Gaudreau, Kevin Hayes and Bill Arnold scored six goals and finished a collective plus-15. Gaudreau scored 25 seconds into the game. The Eagles led 3-0 before the 10-minute mark. Game over.

The Massachusetts-Lowell defense similarly came into the regional title game as the Immovable Object. The River Hawks defense also led the nation by a wide margin, allowing only 1.82 goals per game.

If not for a penalty with 16 seconds left that allowed what turned out to be a meaningless six-on-four goal in the closing seconds against Minnesota State, the River Hawks and goaltender Connor Hellebuyck would have completed three straight shutouts.

Irresistible Force vs. Immovable Object. Nation’s best offense vs. nation’s best defense. Which team could force the game’s play into its style?

Conventional thinking argued that BC would hold the advantage in a higher-scoring, run-and-gun game and Lowell in a lower-scoring, tightly played defensive one.

Of course, that ignored that both teams, despite their excellence in one end of the ice, were also very good in the other.

“When I look at Lowell, they’ve got some excellent forwards and they produce a lot of offense,” BC coach Jerry York said. “With our team, you look at Gaudreau, Arnold, and Hayes and think that we’re just offense, but we play some pretty good, hard-nosed defense, too. Any team that’s successful is going to have a blend.”

As it turned out, the game was neither run-and-gun nor low-scoring. The River Hawks took a 3-2 lead a minute into the third period but couldn’t hold it any longer than 21 seconds.

BC’s Ryan Fitzgerald split the Lowell defense for a goal befitting of Gaudreau to tie it. Then at 11:16, Ian McCoshen put the 4-3 game-winner into an open net on a perfect feed from Teddy Doherty.

For only the second time all season with Hellebuyck in net, the River Hawks had given up more than three goals.

“Systematically, I wouldn’t change too many things,” Lowell coach Norm Bazin said. “I thought we played well. It was one of the best hockey games we played in the last three or four. However, we came out on the short end. It was the third period that did us in.

“This time of year, you aren’t in a position to pick and choose [between high and low-scoring games]. BC has got a lot of high-powered forwards who can put the puck in the net, so we didn’t really care what type of game they were going to play. We were going to try to make it our game. I think we did that for the bulk of the game.

“If we could have plugged away after we scored [early in the third] and made them earn the next one instead of giving it up right away, it might have been a different result. But credit to them.”

The Eagles head to the Frozen Four where they’ll pursue their fourth national championship in seven years. If they accomplish that feat, some credit will go to the Immovable Object that pushed the Irresistible Force to the next level.

“They battled and competed so hard,” York said. “They pushed us to the zenith of our effort.”