By Arielle Aronson/DFP Staff
Boston College is back in what is becoming an annual event for them, as the Eagles advanced to their sixth Hockey East Championship game in the last seven years with a 5-4 win over Northeastern University on Friday night.
The defending champions paved their way to the title game with three power play goals and a 33-save performance from senior goaltender John Muse, who is now 20-1 in his career during the postseason.
“We really focus on the Lamoriello Cup,” BC coach Jerry York said. “I think our conference, that’s important for us. Nationals will come. We use the expression you have to enjoy Thanksgiving before Christmas comes. Too many teams look past their conference championships.”
Early in the game, BC was simply looking to get a lead. Northeastern, as it did all tournament long, scored first although the puck went in off a Boston College player. Muse stuffed Northeastern senior captain Tyler McNeely on the initial shot, but when BC’s Joe Whitney attempted to clear out the rebound, he tossed the puck into his own net.
BC scored on the correct net less than three minutes later, as Brian Gibbons wristed a shot from the low right circle far-side past Northeastern netminder Chris Rawlings.
“Throughout the first period for us, it was a little bit measured in vanilla,” Northeastern coach Greg Cronin said. “It didn’t have the same jump and desperation that I thought we’d come out with, particularly with the fact that we were fighting for an NCAA playoff berth.”
If the Huskies did not have enough desperation in the first, the game certainly became dire for them when the Eagles gave themselves some breathing room in the second period. With Northeastern’s Anthony Bitetto in the box for high-sticking, sophomore forward Pat Mullane sent a pass down low to junior Jimmy Hayes. The Dorchester native centered to younger brother Kevin Hayes who slipped a shot past Rawlings to give the Eagles their first lead of the night.
Wade MacLeod answered the BC tally only 25 seconds later when he blasted a shot past Muse blocker-side.
But Steven Whitney’s incredible effort stole the show and put BC back in the lead at 13:14 of the second period. Whitney took a pass from Brian Dumoulin and then muscled his way to the front of the goal. An NU defender knocked Whitney down, but he roofed a backhand over Rawlings while falling down to put the Eagles up, 3-2.
“That was really a special goal,” York said. “I haven’t seen a goal like that for a while. Probably the highlight goal for the last decade at BC.”
Tommy Cross extended the BC lead with the second Eagles’ power-play tally of the night. Braden Pimm took an interference penalty at 19:11, and Cross fired a shot from the right dot past Rawlings to give BC a 4-2 lead.
The Huskies attempted to get something going in the third by replacing Rawlings with backup goaltender Clay Witt, but even Witt could not stop the BC power play. After multiple attempts on net, BC got Witt down on his stomach. Mullane lifted the puck right over Witt to give BC a commanding 5-2 lead.
But the Eagles did not play a thorough third period, and they allowed NU to get back in the game by taking six of their ten penalties in the final frame and three in the final five minutes. At 16:26, Philip Samuelsson was in the box for BC when teammate Patrick Wey took an ill-advised hooking penalty to give the Huskies a 5-on-3.
Northeastern capitalized. After only 18 seconds of the two-man advantage, Garrett Vermeersch blasted a shot from the blue line that beat Muse to narrow BC’s lead to 5-3.
The Huskies made it a one-goal game on a six-on-four. Eagles senior Brian Gibbons was whistled off for cross-checking at 18:17 and Northeastern pulled Witt. Senior Wade MacLeod slipped a puck through from the top of the crease at 18:57, giving the Huskies 1:03 to tie the game.
But it was too little, too late for the Huskies. A penalty on Bitetto at 19:45 effectively shut the door on Northeastern’s season as BC eked out the victory.
“We did a good job coming back from 5-2, but I don’t think we were a goal short,” Cronin said. “It was like a period short in terms of our energy and aggressiveness.”
The Eagles will face Merrimack College in the title game of the Hockey East tournament on Saturday night.