In just over five minutes, Boston College sees golden opportunity turn to disaster

Boston College’s Johnny Gaudreau put the Eagles in front early, but the failure to convert on a five-minute power play proved to be costly (photo: Melissa Wade).

PHILADELPHIA — When you’ve enjoyed the kind of sustained success that Boston College has, you expect to take advantage of your golden opportunities. You’ve done it time after time, year after year. It’s become an institutional way of life, almost as ingrained as getting up in the morning and going to bed at night.

So when the Eagles went on a five-minute major power play in the third period, trailing 3-2, the thinking had to be: Here’s our shot; maybe two goals to take the lead, but at least one.

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The expectation seemed reasonable and not just because past Eagles teams had seized such opportunities en route to national championships. This year’s BC power play ranked fifth in the nation, converting on more than 24 percent of chances. It featured, among others, the nation’s top two scorers, almost-certain-to-be-crowned Hobey Baker Award winner Johnny Gaudreau and Kevin Hayes.

Maybe two goals; at least one.

Instead, Union’s penalty kill rose to the challenge, blocking shots and cutting off passing lanes during arguably the five most important minutes of the season. In the end, it allowed only eight attempted shots and three shots on goal in the five minutes.

Three shots on goal over a five-minute major? By one of the top power plays in the country?

“We were just kind of out of sync there and not everyone was on the same page, maybe trying to force stuff too much,” Bill Arnold said. “You can’t do that against a good penalty kill.”

Another senior on the power play, Patrick Brown, gave credit to the Union penalty kill.

“They’re a great shot-blocking team,” he said. “I was net front and I couldn’t even see the puck because they had two or three guys in the lane every time.

“But we didn’t create enough movement, get pucks to the net around them. Credit to them. They played unbelievable.”

As the critical power play wound down, the thoughts of BC partisans went from maybe two goals to take the lead to we better get at least one.

But the one never came.

And then disaster struck.

Four seconds after the pivotal five-minute major advantage expired, BC turned the puck over and Kevin Sullivan raced in on goaltender Thatcher Demko. Demko made the save, but then BC compounded the error of the turnover when both defenders followed Sullivan past the goal line, leaving Mike Vecchione all alone in front to bury the biggest nail in Boston College’s coffin.

From maybe two to at least one to oh, no; oh, no; oh, no.

In some respects, a three-goal swing.

It was the haymaker that ultimately decided the contest, but though the blow staggered Boston College, it still showed the stuff of a heavyweight champion, picking itself up off the canvas, bloodied but not yet counted out.

“You have to try not to get frustrated,” Arnold said. “Coach called a timeout there. It starts with him; he’s our leader. He stayed calm and kept us on point.”

Indeed, Boston College coach Jerry York got the Eagles going again.

“I thought there was plenty of time left in the game,” he said. “Clearly there was because we got back to within one goal. And I really thought we had a chance to tie it up there in the fleeting moments of the hockey game. So the game’s never over.”

The Eagles scored an extra-skater goal with 1:45 remaining to close the gap to 4-3 but surrendered an empty-netter 36 seconds later. Even down by two again, however, the heavyweight champion climbed off the canvas again, scored with 4.2 seconds remaining and, still standing, still battling, actually got a credible shot off before the final buzzer.

The game’s never over.

But then the game was over. The game, the season, and for several Boston College Eagles players, their collegiate careers.

“We’ve been on the other side of an awful lot of trophies,” York said. “This particular senior class has done an incredible job for us. I’m very, very proud of them.

“But my hat’s off to Union. They made some plays tonight that resulted in a win.”