BOSTON -- Jack Parker's farewell tour picked up steam Friday night, as his Boston University Terriers fought back from a 2-0 deficit to beat archrival Boston College 6-3 in the Hockey East semifinals at TD Garden.
The third-seeded Terriers (21-15-2) turned the tables on the second-seeded Eagles (22-11-4) with five straight goals, including three critical goals in the second period that gave BU a 3-2 lead going into the final stanza. After BU sophomore Evan Rodrigues finally sealed Parker's 897th win with an empty-net tally at 17:31 of the third period, the Terriers locked up their date in the finals against UMass Lowell on Saturday.
"We came back from the dead, I thought," said Parker, who is retiring after the season. "The game could have been a lot worse in the first half. We hung in there and hung in there, got a little life and took advantage of it.
"I was very proud of these guys," he said.
Saturday's final will mark BU's 10th time in the Hockey East championship game, where the Terriers have a 7-2 record. Perhaps more importantly, it gives Parker's players a chance to win the league crown, and the automatic bid to the NCAA tournament that comes with it, in their coach's swan song.
"Now we have a chance to not only win a championship, but if we do, we'll have a chance to go to another tournament, which is what we would like to do. And we'll have all we can handle with Lowell tomorrow night," said Parker. "I was real pleased with my team. I was real pleased with my special teams. We got a very, very competitive effort tonight."
It didn't look that way early on. The Terriers took three first-period penalties, and the Eagles' power play looked impressive, moving the puck crisply and patiently. But BU's bend-but-don't-break defense, and some timely saves by freshman goaltender Sean Maguire (44 saves), kept BC off the board.
"The game was so out of hand the first half," said Parker. "I thought my guys were uptight, I thought we were struggling to move the puck, I thought we were outskated. I thought our goaltender really stood tall. Forget the fact that we were outshot badly. We were tentative."
At 17:50, BC's Johnny Gaudreau, the league's leading scorer and player of the year, had Maguire down and out, with the puck on his backhand, but he snapped it over the crossbar. Eventually, though, playing a man down caught up with the Terriers.
With BU's Sean Escobedo serving two minutes for tripping, the Eagles broke the scoreless tie at 18:33. Eagles forward Bill Arnold, driving down the right wing, threw the puck in front. It never got there. Instead, the puck deflected off BU defender Garrett Noonan and ramped over Maguire's left shoulder for a 1-0 BC lead.
"Kind of a bad hop," said the junior defender, who just returned from injury.
Quinn Smith nearly doubled the BC lead at the 5-minute mark, on another power play, but the sophomore forward's bid from the low slot rang iron. At 8:25, Whitney, streaking down the left wing, rifled a shot that narrowly missed the cage while being pressured by Matt Grzelcyk.
Twenty seconds later, though, the Eagles were attacking again. Smith didn't miss on his next bid, taking a picture-perfect feed from BC captain Pat Mullane and redirecting it over Maguire's glove at 8:46 for an even-strength tally.
BU showed some life at 12:17, halving the Eagles' lead. BU's Rodrigues executed a nifty toe drag that tripped up Smith, and then fired a wrister that broke through Parker Milner (21 saves). The goal gave the BU offense some spark, and the Terriers started strafing the BC net.
"I think it was almost two completely different games," said BC associate head coach Greg Brown, who along with Mike Cavanaugh was handling bench duties for a recuperating Jerry York. "I thought the first half, we were controlling a lot of the play, dictating the tempo. And then basically, right from their first goal by Rodrigues, their bench got a huge lift, and it seemed like they were asserting themselves more than we were after that."
The Terriers clawed all the way back at the 14:21 mark. When BC's Danny Linell, a converted forward playing defense, bobbled the puck at the BU blue line, Terrier Matt Lane seized the opportunity. Jumping past Linell, Lane raced in on Milner, switched to his backhand and tucked the puck between the legs of the BC netminder.
At 16:55, Milner came up with a big blocker stop on BU's Rodrigues, who got off a quality backhand bit while being tripped by Mike Matheson. The Terriers capitalized on the ensuing power play, with Noonan taking a super-cross-ice feed from Grzelcyk and threading the needle between Milner and the short side post from a bad angle. Noonan's sixth goal of the season gave BU a 3-2 lead at 17:59.
"I think we just finally figured it out," said BU's superb freshman Danny O'Regan. "Coach [was] telling us to play wings out of the zone. Our D's made some great looks up the ice. Nieto and Rodrigues are tough to keep track of. They slipped behind them a couple of times. A couple of skill guys, tough to contain sometimes. So I think it was us adjusting to them."
Milner made amends with 34 seconds left, denying Nieto with a great blocker stop on another breakaway bid. But the second-period collapse was an ominous sign, as BU had a 15-1-0 record this season while leading after two periods and the Eagles were 1-9-0 when trailing after the middle stanza.
BU went right back on the power play to start the third when BC's Gaudreau was whistled for cross-checking Escobedo behind the BU net, resulting in a five-minute major. And again, the Terriers made BC pay.
The Terriers were patient, sending the puck around the perimeter before it was sent to an unmarked O'Regan in prime scoring position. With Ryan Santana setting a monster screen in front of Milner, O'Regan calmly snapped a shot low glove side for a 4-2 Terriers advantage at 1:42.
The Terriers kept firing away, slowly wearing down the Eagles. Arnold and Whitney got off a pair of short-handed shots, but they were long-range efforts that Maguire handled easily. O'Regan then put the game out of reach with another power-play strike.
With BC's Whitney serving two minutes for high-sticking, BU's Nieto launched a bomb from the right point that Milner blocked but couldn't control. O'Regan, cruising in the low slot, found the puck on his stick and immediately deposited it into the BC net, stretching BU's lead to 5-2.
BC showed some life when BU's Patrick MacGregor was sent off for cross-checking at 9:16, but the Eagles couldn't get the puck past Maguire.
"Maggie's been unbelievable this whole stretch, the last eight games or so," said O'Regan. "We'll rely on him tomorrow. He's the most competitive kid I know, so I know he's going to bring it tomorrow as well."
Whitney got one back for BC when he took a carom off the backboard and chipped a bad angle shot that rolled over Maguire's left shoulder at 13:43, cutting the BU margin to 5-3.
At 17:31, with Milner pulled in favor of the extra BC attacker, Rodrigues buried the Eagles with a short-handed, empty-net goal. But the Terriers were keenly aware that their season could easily end Saturday if they don't bring the same effort against Lowell.
"The job's not done yet," said Noonan afterward. "We have to win tomorrow. But it was a good win tonight."
Saturday's Hockey East championship will be a rematch of the 2009 title game won by BU 1-0. Both Lowell and BC have already punched their tickets to the NCAA tournament by virtue of their lofty national and PairWise rankings. BU, however, doesn't have the same luxury. The Terriers need to win to keep playing and extend Parker's legendary career for at least another game.
"Especially after the first period, we kind of realized he's such a great coach," said O'Regan. "We weren't going to let him lose to BC at the Garden as his last game, and we were willing to do whatever we had to."
"Much appreciated, Danny," quipped Parker. "Thank you."
In Lowell, BU faces a squad that swept three straight games with the Terriers this season. "They've had everybody's number," said Parker of the River Hawks.
"We have our backs to the wall," he said. "We have to win to continue our season. More importantly, we have to win for our seniors, not for me. We have to win for these guys who would like to win a championship."