CHESTNUT HILL, Mass. — A pair of goals in the final 3:05 lifted Boston College to a 4-3 win over New Hampshire on Friday night. Scott Pavelski gave UNH a 3-2 lead with 4:42 remaining, but the Eagles answered 1:37 later when Johnny Gaudreau tipped home a beautiful slap pass from Brian Dumoulin. Then with just 51 seconds to go, Pat Mullane found Steven Whitney streaking through the slot for the game-winner.
The Eagles (15-10-1, 11-7-1 HE) opened the scoring 35 seconds into the game when Kevin Hayes corralled the puck below the goal line and banked in a shot off UNH (9-13-2, 6-10-1 HE) goalie Casey DeSmith’s skate. The Wildcats took a 2-1 lead with two goals early in the second from Austin Block and Stevie Moses, but BC answered later in the period with a shorthanded goal from Chris Kreider. The Eagles peppered DeSmith with 34 shots, while the Wildcats managed to test Parker Milner just 13 times.
What I saw
-The Eagles carried play in the first period. They outshot UNH 13-5 in the frame, but time of possession seemed even more lopsided than that. They pinned the Wildcats in their own end for entire shifts at a time, limiting UNH to an occasional one-and-done opportunity at the other end. Through 10 minutes, the Wildcats had just two shots on goal, and one came from the neutral zone while the other was a soft wrister from the point. The only thing BC didn’t do was score more than one goal, which was largely attributable to DeSmith’s stellar play in net.
-The Wildcats started the second period much better than the first. They scored two goals in the opening 5:12 — first when Block banked a shot off Milner from the right corner, then three minutes later when Nick Sorkin fed Moses for a one-timer from the slot. They seemed to let up a little after taking the lead, though, as the Eagles fought their way back and wound up tying the game late in the period.
-Continuing the Tale of Three Periods, the third mirrored the first. BC once again found itself in total control for long stretches at a time. Pavelski’s goal — which came on a nice pass from Kevin McCarey that resulted in an easy tap-in — was really UNH’s first quality scoring chance of the stanza, and that came more than 15 minutes in. Faced with the possibility of losing a game they dominated, the Eagles turned up the intensity even more after UNH took the lead.
What I thought
-The speed difference between BC’s forwards and UNH’s defensemen was enormous. BC’s forwards are faster than pretty much everyone in the league anyway, but the difference was even more noticeable Friday night than it usually is. The most glaring example was Kreider’s goal that tied the game at 2-2. He was barely moving when he got the puck, but just a few strides later he had blown right by Brett Kostolansky. BC’s two late goals were both the result of an Eagle simply beating his man to an open spot on the ice. There were also several instances when the Eagles won a race to a loose puck despite the nearest Wildcat having a 10-to-15-foot head start. Perhaps the Wildcats simply weren’t working hard enough, but the Eagles made it look like they were standing in quicksand more than once.
-DeSmith has come a long way in a short amount of time. Just a couple weeks ago, it looked like he might not be the answer to UNH’s goaltending problems at all. In a 5-4 loss to Maine at Fenway Park on Jan. 7, DeSmith struggled to track pucks in traffic and control his rebounds. This reporter couldn’t help but wonder if UNH was bound to get inconsistent goaltending the rest of the season. Now, those doubts seem foolish. DeSmith entered Friday having allowed just five goals in his last four goals, and even though he gave up four goals against BC, he played well and gave UNH a chance to win. The first goal was the only one he could be faulted for, as the next three were the result of his defensemen simply getting beat. Friday, he was at his best when the net front was total chaos — the exact situations he looked helpless in against Maine.
-BC’s power play looked off, at least until Gaudreau’s tying tally. The Eagles snapped an 0-for-16 stretch by going 3-for-7 against Maine last weekend, but they appeared to take a step back Friday night. They got into the zone just fine, but once they got set up, there were too many guys standing around and too many passes that weren’t nearly hard enough to reach their destination. UNH ended up with several easy clears by picking off soft passes. BC finished the night 1-for-5 with seven shots on the man advantage.
What they said
“We had two winnable periods of time up at Maine. We just didn’t respond very well to it, with the game right on the line. This week we talked about when the game’s on the line, let’s see if we can make good, smart plays. … We responded very well after going down with five minutes left. We got to winnable time and made some really good plays during winnable time.” -BC coach Jerry York
As York mentioned, the Eagles had two winnable games at Maine last weekend, but came away with no points after struggling late in both games. They gave up the tying goal with 5:11 to go and then lost in overtime Friday. On Saturday, they surrendered the winning goal with 2:59 left and then allowed two empty-netters. It looked like they might suffer a similar fate against UNH, but the Eagles made sure they finished strong this time, and they ended up with two points as a result.
What else you should know
-The Eagles and Wildcats wrap up their season series Saturday night in Durham. BC has already taken the season series by winning the first two matchups.
-York said he hasn’t yet decided who will start in net Saturday. Friday marked the first start for Milner since Dec. 30, as Brian Billett and Chris Venti had split the five games in between.
-With the win, BC is now two points behind BU for first in Hockey East. UNH has a one-point lead over Northeastern for the eighth and final playoff spot.