CHESTNUT HILL -- What's a Holy War without a chance for redemption?
For the Boston College Eagles, redemption came in the form of a 4-2 victory over Notre Dame before 4,537 fans at Conte Forum on Saturday, less than 24 hours after a 7-2 mauling at the hands of the Fighting Irish. BC's victory ties the Hockey East quarterfinal series at a game apiece, and the two teams will meet Sunday with a spot in the semifinals at TD Garden next Friday on the line.
"Our objective was to get to Sunday afternoon," said BC coach Jerry York. "We met this morning, and re-emphasized how difficult it was going to get to a Sunday afternoon game. We had to improve in a lot of different areas. I think that's an outstanding team that we're playing. Coming off that 7-2 beating last, night, I thought we responded very, very well."
Of course, having a superstar forward showing the way certainly helps. BC junior Johnny Gaudreau, the nation's top scorer, notched a 4-point night on two goals and two assists - extending his point streak to 31 games - to lead the top-seeded Eagles (26-6-4; 16-2-2 Hockey East) past the 8th-seeded Irish (22-13-2; 9-9-2 HE). Gaudreau's linemates Kevin Hayes (a goal and two assists) and Bill Arnold (two assists) also had big nights.
"Obviously, BC's top line played like the best line in college hockey," said Notre Dame coach Jeff Jackson, when asked what the difference was between Friday and Saturday nights.
Perhaps the single biggest oddity of the Hockey East playoffs was the seeding of Notre Dame. Despite being ranked No. 11 in the entire country, the Irish managed only an 8th-place finish in Hockey East. Saturday, Boston College, No. 2 in the national polls, was reminded again just how dangerous the Irish are. The Eagles got off to the worst possible start, surrendering a goal just 39 seconds into the contest.
BC freshman goalie Thatcher Demko (19 saves) made a great left pad stop on Bryan Rust after the ND senior turned Steve Santini inside out. Seconds later, though, Rust collected a pass from Andy Ryan, and with T.J. Tynan parked in front, snapped a wrister that eluded Demko for a 1-0 Irish lead.
"I thought a key to the game was that we gave up an early goal, and the bench did not sag at all," said York.
Santini nearly made amends at 7:20, when his shot from above the right faceoff dot beat ND goalie Steven Summerhays glove side but clanked off the post. Summerhays, from the seat of his goalie pants, then denied back-to-back rebound bids from Patrick Brown and Austin Cangelosi.
The flurry, however, appeared to shake the Eagles out of their doldrums, and they began to apply pressure in the ND end, eventually outshooting the Irish 19-6 in the first stanza.
"We established a great forecheck throughout the whole game," said Gaudreau. "I think that's what got us a few of those goals during the game. We have to make sure to keep pressing their D."
The Eagles did pull even at 10:28, shortly after killing a penalty by Brown, on a goal set up by a spectacular rush by Gaudreau. Picking up the puck in the neutral zone from Arnold, Gaudreau waltzed into the Irish zone and then put on a burst that dropped ND defender Kevin Lind to his knees. BC's Brown, sprung from the penalty box, came steaming into the slot and Gaudreau curled the puck back to his captain. Brown made no mistake, burying his 13th of the season to knot the score, 1-1.
"We just came out a lot harder in this game," said Gaudreau. "I think the guys knew it was a do-or-die game, and we didn't want to send out our seniors with a loss here at Conte. I think that was a little bit of motivation too."
The Eagles had a golden opportunity to break the tie with the Golden Domers during a two-man advantage late in the period, and BC's golden boy made good again. With Mike Voran and Peter Schneider both in the sin bin, BC's Hayes corralled the puck by the left faceoff dot and fired a perfect cross-ice pass to Gaudreau at the bottom of the right circle. The junior from New Jersey gathered the pass, and calmly roofed his shot over a sprawling Summerhays for a 2-1 Eagle lead at 17:39.
"The first period, there was no flow to it, with all the penalties," said Jackson. "That really was the difference in the game. That's where the whole tempo of the game was established."
Demko made the lead stand going into the first intermission with a nifty last stop on Jeff Costello's backhand bid.
The middle stanza saw plenty of opportunities, as both teams ramped up their offensive games. Summerhays (33 saves) made another save on his backside, snagging Arnold's bid with his glove at 6:26. ND's Vince Hinostroza had a terrific chance to get the Irish level at 11:45 when he pounced on a defensive miscue by BC's Scott Savage, but he lost the handle before he could get a shot off on Demko. Less than a minute later, Summerhays flashed the leather again, snaring Brown's slapper from the right halfwall. With just over two minutes left, and BC on the power play, Gaudreau put a shift on the ND defense, but Summerhays smothered his backhander.
At 5:58 of the third period, the Eagles got some breathing room with an insurance marker off a broken play. BC's Savage, cruising into the slot, appeared to have an open shot but fanned on his attempt. Summerhays, though, was too aggressive, and got caught out of position when Savage regrouped and slid the puck to Hayes at the left dot. Hayes fired the puck into the open net for the eventual game-winner, and Summerhays slammed his stick in frustration.
The Eagles put the game out of reach at 7:29, when Gaudreau got his second goal of the game and 32nd of the year on another superb individual move. Driving the left side, Gaudreau blew past the Irish defense, drew the puck across the crease, and coolly slipped it between Summerhays' legs for a three-goal BC lead.
"Our work ethic was better tonight," said York. "I thought our battles were better tonight. And we got a big push out of Billy Arnold's line. Johnny in particular was really on top of his game tonight."
The Irish chipped into the BC lead with a power-play goal at 16:18. With Santini serving two minutes for boarding, Hinostroza took the puck near the right dot, toe-dragged into the slot and rifled a wrist shot that beat Demko low blocker side to get Notre Dame within two. But the Irish wouldn't get another puck past Demko.
With three seconds left, Gaudreau was dropped by a clean-but-crunching neutral zone check by ND's Ryan, setting off a minor scrum. That should definitely set the tone for Sunday's rubber match.
"They're a great team," Jackson. "Punch, counter-punch. You expect that from a great team. That's what we saw tonight."
Jackson said he expects both teams to be tired, adding: "College kids aren't used to three games in three days." But Gaudreau said he'll be ready, especially because he anticipates being better rested. "Last night was tough to sleep" following Friday's 7-2 loss, he said. "But I'll get a little bit more sleep than last night."
Asked if the Eagles will change anything for Sunday's deciding contest, Gaudreau replied: "It's the same approach as coming into this night. We want to get to the Garden. We want to make sure our senior class comes out of Conte with their last win here. It's definitely going to be fun, exciting, and I'm excited to get the game going."