BOSTON – Boston College came away victorious in the first edition of this year’s B-Line Rivalry, beating Boston University 4-2 at Agganis Arena on Sunday. With the win, the Eagles extended their winning streak to eight and completed a weekend sweep of two of their biggest rivals, as they also beat Notre Dame on Friday.
BC (8-1-0, 7-1-0 Hockey East) opened the scoring just 43 seconds in when Kevin Hayes carried the puck behind BU’s net behind before finding Destry Straight at the top of the crease for an easy tap-in. The score stayed that way for the next 50 minutes before Hayes and Johnny Gaudreau scored 1:22 apart midway through the third to make it 3-0.
Matt Grzelcyk gave BU (5-3-0, 4-2-0 HE) a glimmer of hope when he scored with 4:40 remaining, but then Bill Arnold sealed the BC win with an empty-netter. BU’s Alexx Privitera capped the scoring with 1:17 to go. Despite not seeing a ton of shots, both Parker Milner (25 saves) and Matt O’Connor (20) made a number of big stops when their teams needed them to.
What I saw
-BU struggled mightily on the power play. The Terriers had three in the first period alone, but they couldn’t get set up against BC’s aggressive penalty kill and wound up spending way too much time regrouping in their own zone. The few times they did get good looks, they failed to hit the net. On BU’s second power play, Matt Nieto set up both Sahir Gill and Danny O’Regan in a 10-second span, but Gill shot wide and O’Regan couldn’t handle the pass. On the next power play, Gill found O’Regan alone in the high slot, but O’Regan fired wide. BU did eventually score on the power play, but it came in garbage time with the Terriers trailing by three.
-Fortunately for BU, the Eagles couldn’t do anything with their power plays either. They opened the second with a 5-on-3 for 1:38, but couldn’t capitalize despite getting some quality chances. O’Connor made a pair of nice saves on Pat Mullane and Steven Whitney, and Mullane also fumbled away a chance on an open net. But 5-on-4, the Eagles looked just as inept as BU. They did a slightly better job of getting set up, but then they’d either shoot right into defenders or right into O’Connor’s chest. The Eagles came into the weekend at 40 percent on the season, but went 0-for-12 on the man advantage this weekend.
-The Terriers outshot BC 15-8 in the third and controlled play for most of the period, but they just couldn’t beat Milner. That failure to finish came back to bite them when BC scored two quick goals to pretty much put the game out of reach. The first was a bit of a fluke, as Hayes banked a shot off O’Connor’s skate after the Terriers had already broken up a 2-on-1. The second came on a defensive breakdown that left Gaudreau alone in front. The Terriers regained some momentum when they pulled their goalie with more than 5:30 left in the game, as that allowed them to really turn up the pressure. The move paid off with one goal, but that was as close as they’d get.
What I thought
-Both teams played great defensively, which certainly helped contribute to the ineffective power plays. They were physical, they kept shots to the outside, they cleared out the front of the net, and they were both absolutely fearless when it came to blocking shots. The Eagles blocked 17 shots, including seven in the third period when BU was really pressuring. The Terriers blocked 14, led by five apiece from Privitera and Sean Escobedo. Both teams had guys diving in front of shots, and both teams had several players come up hobbling or shaking their arm after a block. It was the kind of all-out effort that you don’t normally see in a regular-season game. Of course, BU-BC isn’t a normal regular-season game.
-The referees got way too whistle-happy. The worst call was an embellishment on Escobedo in the second period. Escobedo got hit from behind by Patrick Brown about a foot from the boards, fell to one knee, and somehow got called for embellishing. Hockey East is trying to be stricter when it comes to embellishing this season, but calling it when there’s nothing even close to an embellishment is just brutal. That wasn’t the only bad call, though. Mullane got called for hooking by a ref 100 feet away in the neutral zone, despite the fact that the ref three feet away was looking right at the play and didn’t call it. There were several other calls on both teams that were questionable, but those two were clearly the worst. Neither one had any business being called.
-These are two teams that should be competing for hardware all season long. We all assumed the Eagles would be there again, and they’ve certainly done nothing but reinforce those beliefs. But the Terriers have shown that they can compete with anyone, too. A bad 4-1 loss at New Hampshire early in the season cast some doubt on them, but earning a split at North Dakota and going toe-to-toe with BC have helped alleviate any concerns. They’ve played well defensively, they’ve gotten great goaltending from Matt O’Connor, and they’ve had young guys like Cason Hohmann, Danny O’Regan and Evan Rodrigues really step up on offense. If Matt Nieto and Sahir Gill — their top two returning point scorers from last year — can get going, they’ll be even more dangerous.
What they said
-BC coach Jerry York: “Games like this help both our teams get better. We push each other. Win or lose, you’re gonna be better because of the game we played. It’ll benefit both teams. I thought that going into the game, and I sincerely believe that now. The skating, the checking, just good hockey from both teams. … You’ve got teams making plays. I love that, when I watch teams make plays. Not a lot of dump and chase and go after it. Both teams were making good plays.”
-York on winning both games this weekend: “Certainly it’s a really big weekend from our perspective. Of course this is our chief rival, but Notre Dame also is a pretty big rival of ours. We looked at the weekend and thought this was gonna test us a little bit, and it certainly did. I’m very aware that we could’ve lost both games. Both teams that we played were excellent teams.”
-BU coach Jack Parker: “They’re very similar to us in many ways, as far as age, class. We have a bigger freshman class this year than they do. You look at their first two lines, they are two terrific first lines. It’s hard to determine who’s the number one line. … We’ll see them again later on. This game will make us grow up. This game will help us. Either way, this game was gonna help us. I thought we hung in there and played pretty well against the number one team in the nation.”
-Parker on special teams: “I was amazed the score was what it was at the end of the second period with all the power plays. Both teams did a great job killing penalties. I thought that was probably the best part of our game. They played pretty well on their power play and we did a good job killing it. We did not play well on our power play. We made it kind of easy for them to kill it. We really struggled.”
What else you should know
-It won’t be long until these two teams meet again, as they’ll play a home-and-home in three weeks. After that, the next potential meeting would be in the second round of the Beanpot.