The last year has been full of unpredictability for Boston College men’s hockey. This season saw game postponements and last-minute schedule changes, the cancellation of the Beanpot Tournament, and the creation of the Hockey East Power Index, just to name a few examples. Among all of this change, however, one constant was the Eagles’ resiliency. Another constant was unrelenting pressure from New Hampshire.
The Eagles’ resiliency continued into the Hockey East playoffs, as did BC’s struggles against UNH. After three quick first-period goals for BC, it seemed that the Eagles and their potent offense were on course for a landslide victory. But, UNH struck back with two goals to put the result up in the air, as the Wildcats always seem to do against BC. Despite the second-period comeback attempt, No. 1-seed BC (16-4-1) held on in the third period to defeat No. 9-seed UNH (6-13-3) in the Hockey East Tournament quarterfinals 3-2.
From the opening puck drop, the physicality of playoff hockey was on display. Both teams were trading hits and collecting penalties all night long. Mike Hardman was noticeably physical for the Eagles with two crushing open-ice hits.
“He’s really physical, but he’s got good skills also,” BC head coach Jerry York said. “He really hurts people, but they’re clean checks. You know he’s out there. He’s something that we value very, very much.”
The scoring began just over five minutes into the first period. With the teams playing 4-on-4, BC’s leading scorer Matt Boldy took advantage of the extra open ice to link up with Alex Newhook on a gorgeous cross-ice pass. On what looked like a designed play, the puck deflected off the boards perfectly to Newhook, who was all alone in front of the net. The talented goal scorer snuck a shot past UNH goaltender Mike Robinson to give his team the early advantage.
“It is certainly a play that we’ve seen the Bruins do over the years,” York said on the cross-ice pass. “You’re going to negate icing for sure because you have speed going, but [if] you get a bounce off the boards, you get a really good chance. We did tonight.”
BC has a reputation for scoring in bunches this season, which held true on Sunday. Just two minutes after Newhook’s goal, the Eagles doubled their lead. All year long, Hardman has wreaked havoc for opposing goalies in the crease with his size and skill. After Robinson made a save on Eamon Powell’s point shot, the rebound fell right to Hardman, and he beat the UNH netminder for the goal. Hardman’s net-front presence has been a valuable asset for York’s squad this season.
Soon after Hardman’s tally, BC struck once again. All alone in the slot, Nikita Nesterenko received a pass from Colby Ambrosio, and he blasted a one-timer past Robinson to make it a three-goal lead for the Eagles. As the period came to a close, it felt like an absurd offensive output was on the horizon.
The next period felt like a whole new hockey game. After a first period in which BC dominated, the Wildcats came out of the first intermission with vengeance. Eric MacAdams got UNH on the board, as he beat Spencer Knight glove side on a powerful wrist shot from the faceoff circle. Just a few minutes later, the Wildcats cut the BC lead to just one as Luke Reid beat Knight on a wrister from the slot.
In the final seconds of the second period, Boldy had a prime chance to score. He rang the puck off the crossbar on the partial breakaway, denying him an insurance goal. After seemingly being on their way to a blowout win, the Eagles found themselves just clinging onto a single-goal lead by the end of the second frame.
The third period was once again like a new game, with very few whistles and no penalties committed by either side. Robinson robbed Hardman late in the third on a spectacular kick save to keep his team alive. UNH had a few chances to tie the game after pulling its goaltender, but Knight and the Eagles’ defense stood tall to see out the win and reserve their spot in the next round of the playoffs.
The Eagles will continue their quest for a conference title when they take on the UMass Lowell River Hawks in the semifinals on Wednesday night at home.
“I thought we defended extremely well when the goaltender was pulled,” York said. “We didn’t give up a ton of chances there. Historically, wins in the playoffs are just hard. To advance—that’s the objective—and not very often are there easy games in the playoffs.”
Featured Image Courtesy of BC Athletics