Northeastern makes Boston College pay for turnovers

Northeastern held off Boston College in the Hockey East semifinals (photo: Melissa Wade).

BOSTON — In the grand scheme of things, it is hard to not look at Friday evening’s Hockey East semifinal games with a focus on a greater perspective.

All coaches in Hockey East will say that winning the conference title is a priority, an endgame. It is a goal for programs to reach come tournament season.

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Yet, there is an overall endgame to focus on, and that is an NCAA tournament berth.

Northeastern coach Jim Madigan noted that, while winning Hockey East is a a goal for the program, both players and coaches were aware of the scenarios necessary for a tournament berth.

Madigan also noted, however, the automatic bid that came with winning the Hockey East tournament. In other words, winning the tournament would remove all doubt.

No. 14 Northeastern’s foe Friday evening, the No. 5 Boston College Eagles, did not have much doubt surrounding their tournament future going into the game. While the seeding for the tournament still had a degree of fluidity, the Eagles had assured themselves a tournament berth long before arriving at the Garden.

It may be cynical to think, but the quality of play on both sides may have reflected these facts. Northeastern moved into the championship game with a 5-4 victory.

“I thought we played well,” BC coach Jerry York said. “But we weren’t really sharp.”

York cited breakouts and neutral-zone play as a part of the Eagles’ woes. Yet the issues for the Eagles extended much further than that.

For one, a problem that has reoccurred for the Eagles reared its ugly head once more at the Garden: penalties. While York noted the difference in penalty calling between the first game, where there was only one penalty called the entire game, and the 11 combined penalties called in the late game, it is not unreasonable to raise concern about the number of penalties the Eagles have been taking. BC led the league in penalty minutes during the season.

Penalties proved problematic for the Eagles Friday night. They surrendered six power plays, two of which were converted into goals. Toward the end of the game, when BC trailed by only one goal, the Eagles took two penalties that ultimately stymied any chance of BC generating a comeback effort.

Turnovers also proved problematic. The one turnover that will be etched into history probably will be Colin White’s turnover in the defensive zone that led to Lincoln Griffin getting a one-on-one chance on Thatcher Demko, scoring what became the game-winning goal.

Yet it was more than just that one giveaway. The Eagles committed multiple turnovers throughout the game that, while not directly leading to a goal, may have prevented the Eagles from getting a clear, or perhaps it led to a dangerous offensive chance. In other words, it was not just one, but several turnovers that hurt the Eagles.

The curious part of these errors was not the errors themselves, but rather the end result. BC has a history of taking a lot of penalties in games — yet it never seemed to hurt the Eagles in the past. Turnovers are a part of hockey, and BC has been guilty before.

On Friday evening, the Huskies made the Eagles pay for their mistakes, something that has been a rarity this season.

Mike McMurtry noted that winning the Hockey East tournament was a goal set “from day one of the season,” for the Huskies.

On Friday night, Northeastern looked like a team focused on its goal.

And BC looked like a team that wasn’t “sharp.”