Boston College didn’t lose in its 19 games prior to Saturday’s regular season finale against Notre Dame, but it didn’t play its best in all of those games. The Eagles didn’t do it on Saturday either, but this time, their sub-par play cost them as they lost 2-1 in overtime, snapping their streak, and preventing head coach Jerry York from breaking his own record for consecutive games unbeaten.
Aside from it being senior night, the game was largely inconsequential for the Eagles, who still enter the Hockey East tournament as the No. 1 seed and clear-cut favorite. York didn’t feel like his team’s mind was on spring break, though, or somewhere that wasn’t Kelley Rink, and he wasn’t upset with the effort. Notre Dame is good, and it played even better, smothering the top offense in college hockey for nearly all 62 minutes. Even for BC, facing a team playing that way isn’t easy.
“Very few odd-man rushes during the course of the game, and you got to be able to play that type of game, I thought we did a really good job on it,” said York. “I thought our team played well, against a very good team. I thought the Irish played very, very well tonight.”
York did not seem to be worried about the streak either.
“Just take it one game at a time, we lost, certainly we would have liked to have won that game in OT, but you can’t judge it just on that, [it’s not like if on] the next shift we score, everything’s perfect,” York said regarding his team’s supposed disappointment over the unbeaten streak’s demise.
The first period was a mundane one, highlighted only by a couple of grade-A chances for each side that were denied. The best of those came after Steve Santini disputed an interference penalty called against him. On the ensuring power-play, Notre Dame captain Jeff Costello found himself all alone in the left circle as Demko was sliding over from the opposite post. Costello’s shot was on net, but its lack of precision gave the freshman goaltender the chance to stop it. Demko stretched his big frame to the right just enough to keep the game scoreless.
BC attempted just eight total shots in the first period, but York disputed the notion that the Eagles were sluggish at the outset.
“Well, we played a good defensive team,” York said. “You know, we killed two penalties in that first period, so we had sixteen minutes of five-on-five, and you know, (it was) tough to get chances. They had six shots on goal with two power plays. We had three shots on goal, so you know, and sometimes defense is rewarded.”
In a rare occurrence, the Eagles committed a defensive mistake on the first shift after the first intermission, and Notre Dame scored after 32 seconds. As Costello crossed BC’s blue line with the puck, defenseman Issac MacLeod picked him up and left Michael Matheson to mark Notre Dame center Steven Fogarty, who was driving at Demko’s net. Costello halted his rush and waited for Fogarty and Matheson to clear before he sent the puck across the ice to defenseman Kevin Lind, who glided into the left circle. Unimpeded, Lind fired and beat Demko. York wasn’t bothered by the breakdown, one of few, calling it “a really good offensive play.”
BC turned it up as the middle frame wore on, but remained stifled by the team defense of the Fighting Irish, who was committed to limiting the Eagles’ time and space with the puck as much as possible. Notre Dame head coach Jeff Jackson said, that kind of team defense is only as good as a team’s offense. If Johnny Gaudreau, et al, don’t have the puck, they can’t score.
“Defense comes from, obviously, defending, but it also comes from trying to possess the puck, and [BC is] a great puck possession team, so if you possess the puck then that keeps them from being, you know, on offense,” Jackson said. “So it’s kind of both parts of it, making good plays with the puck, puck possession, and trying to control the game—the time with the puck, and then when you do have to defend, it’s coordination of five guys, and your goaltender is the last stop.”
The Eagles only scored when Jackson’s team had four guys on the ice, at the end of a Mario Lucia penalty that spilled over into the start of the third period. During the final seconds of the penalty, Gaudreau took a breakout pass from Matheson through the neutral zone, and as part of one of the few times all night he was allowed a head of steam, the junior stickhandled through the Irish penalty kill. He got behind the defense and beat Notre Dame goalie Steven Summerhays to tie the game. The goal persisted one streak for the Eagles, with Gaudreau heading into the postseason having scored a point in 29 consecutive games.
Gaudreau’s linemates, Kevin Hayes and Bill Arnold, did not collect a point on the night, and Gaudreau’s lone score is a point off his normal pace. Suppressing the best offense in the country is one thing, but shutting down BC’s all-galaxy trio is even more notable.
“It’s probably the best line in college hockey, so you don’t isolate one individual,” Jackson said. “We try to play our game against everybody, and obviously you have to be extra prepared when that line is on the ice, but it’s not like we tried to change anything, you know, we were fortunate, you know, goalie made a couple good saves.”
As the third period progressed, the triumvirate generated more quality chances than it did previously, but Notre Dame held steady, preventing the long, dominating swaths of play that those three are known to ignite.
In overtime, Gaudreau got off a snapshot from the slot on the initial shift of the extra frame, but that was the last chance BC had at ending the game before the visitors did. Just under two minutes into overtime, Irish forward Vince Hinostroza threw a point shot toward the net, and after deflecting off the stick of Demko, the puck popped behind the freshman and skittered across the goal line to end the game and the regular season.
“They limited our chances. We limited their chances,” York said. “We’re not (going to) see many 6-1 games in the playoffs.”