BOSTON -- Boston College's dream for a Hockey East three-peat remains alive after the top-seeded Eagles punched their ticket to the championship tilt, knocking off a game-but-overmatched 7-seed Providence, 4-2, in the front end of the league's semifinal doubleheader at TD Garden on Friday.
"There were no guarantees," said BC coach Jerry York, adding that Providence coach Nate Leaman "has really had that team improving and playing very, very well, so that was a pretty good obstacle for us to get through."
Less than 90 seconds into the game, the predominantly black uniforms of the Friars (14-20-4) looked ideal for a funeral procession. The Eagles (28-10-1), the nation's unanimous No. 1 team, narrowly missed on two opening bids by Steven Whitney, including a wraparound attempt that went straight across the goalmouth and rang off the opposite post yet somehow stayed out.
"You always have to be on your toes with BC; they come ready to score," said Friar goalie Alex Beaudry. "They are a great team with a lot of depth, so you have to be ready for them."
Just 40 seconds later, the Eagles made good on their second wraparound bid, when Paul Carey went across Beaudry's body and buried the puck for an unassisted goal and a 1-0 BC lead.
"Pat Mullane made a nice play in deep," said Carey. "That's what we try to do, try to get the puck down low. I got lucky. There were two friars, and the puck just ended up on my stick."
But on St. Patrick's Day weekend, the Friars seemed determined to turn the game into a rollicking Irish wake. After absorbing BC's opening body blow, the Friars responded quickly, scoring the next two goals in a two-minute span, which was more than Providence could muster in the last two games they played against BC in late February (when BC swept a pair from PC by a combined 10-0 score).
PC's Barrett Kaib got things started with his first of the season, launching a bomb from the right face-out dot that blew over BC goalie Parker Milner's left shoulder at 2:28 to tie things up at 1-1. At 4:33, Derek Army, the son of the former Providence coach and player, drilled a wrister from the right wing that caught Milner off his angle, beating him short side with an unassisted strike for a 2-1 Friar lead.
"We were rolling, got down one to nothing and the guys showed a lot of character coming back and getting two quick ones," said Leaman. "Both teams were trading chances, and we had some of our best chances in the first period."
Army's goal appeared to snap Milner awake, and the league leader in goals against average and save percentage quickly corrected his bearings, stoning the Friars over the next 55 minutes.
"We try not to let it affect us," said Carey of his goaltender's uncharacteristic start. "Parker was still strong in net. I know he wanted those two back, but he played the rest of the game really good. We just keep a positive attitude, and just keep pushing, because it's a long 60 minutes and you don't win in the first period."
The Eagles got on level terms at 8:35, when Destry Straight completed a sweet passing combination play. Chris Kreider got it started, dishing to Kevin Hayes, who drove the net before slipping a backhand feed to Straight at the doorstep, and the freshman had a tap-in to knot the game, 2-2.
The game then settled into a more predictable rhythm, though the Friars spent much of the period chasing BC freshman sensation Johnny Gaudreau. And it was Gaudreau who gave the Eagles the lead, just 3:58 into the second.
Picking up a rebound of a Carey shot, Gaudreau waltzed across the slot, juking defender Myles Harvey and waiting for Beaudry to commit first. Once the Providence goalie dropped, Gaudreau took the extra step, and snapped the puck into the vacated PC net for a power-play tally and a 3-2 Eagles lead.
The Eagles thought they had doubled the lead at 12:32, when Barry Almeida's sharp angle shot found its way through Beaudry's legs. But the on-ice officials, following a video review, overruled the goal, saying that Whitney had bumped Beaudry just before the shot.
In the third period, after withstanding a pressing PC power play, the Eagles did get their two-goal margin. Bill Arnold picked up a Providence turnover high on the right wall, and quickly fed Almeida. Breaking on his off wing, Almeida ripped a shot that Beaudry (30 saves) kicked out with his right pad. Whitney, unlike his first-minute gaffe, pounced on the rebound and made no mistake this time, slotting it behind Beaudry for the insurance marker at 8:00.
Two minutes later, Milner (27 saves) kept the Friars from getting back into the game, robbing PC's Ross Mauermann with a lightning quick glove save on a shot that was labeled for the top corner.
"I thought one of the differences in the game was our immaturity and being in this type of environment, and their maturity and being in this type of environment," said PC's Leaman. "I thought we came out and did not execute quite as well as we wanted to throughout the game."
The win was BC's 14th in a row, the longest streak in York's tenure as coach, and sends them into their third straight championship final and seventh of the past eight (BC's seniors are now 13-1 in Hockey East tournament play over the past four seasons). The last two, they've emerged as Hockey East champions. Winning a third straight would give them not only league bragging rights, but also a league record.