BOSTON — It was not the semifinal matchup most expected at the outset of the Hockey East playoffs. But Providence upset UMass Lowell and earned the right to face Boston College, which had made quick work of Massachusetts in the quarterfinals.
However, the Providence defense, which was key in the victories over Lowell, was no match for the BC offense. The Friars fell, 4-2, despite a pair of first-period goals. BC will face the winner of Boston University and Maine in Friday’s second semifinal.
As much as the Eagles generated offense and kept puck possession, Friday’s win was far from the dominant performance that BC typically delivers this time of year. Many expected the game to be a replay of a pair of 3-0 and 7-0 victories for the team over the Friars about one month ago.
“We’re in that mode where we just try to win and advance,” BC coach Jerry York said. “Providence played us hard — there was certainly a lot of action to start the game with four goals.”
For York, the program has an opportunity to become the first school to win three consecutive Hockey East tournament championships. Beyond the potential for a trophy, the secondary goal is getting his team ready for the biggest competition: the NCAA tournament. Though a now 14-game winning streak is hard to refute, there’s still capacity for the Eagles to increase their level of play.
One of BC’s important players, junior goaltender Parker Milner, recovered well from a shaky start against PC. His continued strong play will be paramount if the Eagles hope to win the final tomorrow night and make a run to the Frozen Four. The Eagles have secured the No. 1 overall seed in the national tournament by virtue of their win and Minnesota-Duluth’s loss to Denver in the WCHA semifinals.
Meanwhile, BC’s opponent was hoping to create more waves in the conference playoffs, having already been the first team to qualify for the semifinals as a No. 7 seed. But the team did not play with the same defensive discipline and cohesion that allowed it to knock off Lowell last weekend. The Friars upset the Hockey East No. 2 seed by winning twice in the three-game series with scores of 5-3 and 1-0.
Providence was fortunate to keep the game close for as long as it did. Goaltender Alex Beaudry played well in net for Providence, making 29 saves and taking constant corrective action for the PC defense.
The Friars succeeded in keeping the vaunted BC power play off the ice for the first 20 minutes. However, on their first opportunity in the second, the Eagles converted. Forward Johnny Gaudreau dragged the puck across the front of the net, skating past several outstretched sticks and delicately pushed the puck past Beaudry.
One of the top freshmen in Hockey East, Gaudreau has established himself as talented goal scorer whose creativity with the puck allows him to easily create chances for himself and teammates on the power play. Friday’s goal was an affirmation of these talents and proved an important step in BC asserting its dominance against the Friars.
“Gaudreau’s goal in a tight-game was important,” York said. “We’re very excited about the way he’s playing. He’s got a lot of Ben Eaves in him (former BC forward who scored 38 points as a member of the 2000-01 national championship team). He just keeps getting better and better.”
The goal was the game-winner, and turned out to be important after another was erased following review later that period. The Eagles finally succeeded in adding to their lead in the third period.
Another bad PC turnover in its own zone led to BC’s fourth goal, which involved a series of outstanding passes from Barry Almeida (1st team All-Hockey East forward) and Bill Arnold to Steven Whitney.
Providence earned the start it desired, getting two quick goals within the first several minutes. One could argue both were shots that Milner typically stops. The first — a slap shot from the right slot from defenseman Barrett Kaib — made its way through traffic and the goalie’s legs. The second PC goal came shortly after the Eagles levelled. Army — one of Providence’s best players last weekend against UML — took the puck down the right side and launched a light wrister as he skated toward the net. Despite lacking the best angle for the shot, Army found the net and gave his team another lead.
“We started out slow, but we showed maturity to battle back and take the lead,” Providence coach Nate Leaman said. “They did a good job keeping it in our zone by winning a lot of face-offs. Our recoverability off turn-overs was also not as good as it was last week.”