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BC hangs on to beat BU, advance to Hockey East championship game, keep NCAA hopes alive

03.17.17 at 10:59 pm ET
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Boston College survived Boston University's late comeback push Friday night. (WEEI.com)

Boston College survived Boston University’s late comeback push Friday night. (WEEI.com)

Boston University made things interesting in the end, but ultimately Boston College’s dominance for most of the game was enough to lift the Eagles over their rivals and send them to the Hockey East championship game for the first time since 2012.

Propelled by a dominant second period, the Eagles escaped with a 3-2 victory to keep their NCAA tournament hopes alive. They’ll take on UMass Lowell, who stormed past Notre Dame in Friday’s first semifinal, Saturday night at 7 p.m. at TD Garden.

BC and BU were tied 0-0 after one, but the Eagles took a 1-0 lead 1:58 into the second on a seemingly benign play. Freshman forward Julius Mattila led a rush down the right wing and snapped off a shot from just inside the blue line that managed to beat Jake Oettinger glove-side. The shot may have deflected off BU defenseman Brandon Hickey’s stick, which could explain the usually-stellar Oettinger getting beat by it.

After that goal, BC took complete control of the game as BU seemingly fell asleep. The Eagles had a 12-2 shots on goal advantage through the first 12 minutes of the period and eventually built that up to a 17-5 edge as they pinned the Terriers in their own end pretty much all period. BU ran into all kinds of problems trying to break the puck out, as BC took away every opening and forced the Terriers to attempt desperate, low-percentage passes.

The Terriers got what could’ve been the break they needed when they went to the power play with 7:21 left in the period, but that turned out to be a disaster too. Christopher Brown beat Chad Krys to a loose puck and sent Bruins prospect Ryan Fitzgerald in 1-on-1 against fellow Bruins prospect Charlie McAvoy. Fitzgerald used McAvoy as a screen and beat Oettinger to make it 2-0.

The Eagles made it 3-0 in the first minute of the third when they took advantage of a BU defensive-zone turnover, with Brown once against setting up Fitzgerald. It looked like they’d be able to cruise to the finish line, but the Terriers, it turned out, did have some fight in them.

Jordan Greenway scored with 2:24 to go when he snuck a puck past Joseph Woll on a jam attempt, then Clayton Keller found the back of the net 1:02 later to cut BC’s lead to 3-2 with 1:22 to go. BU continued to pressure in the final minute and got off a couple shots on goal, but Woll stood tall and the Eagles survived.

There was a pretty good brawl at the final buzzer, with BU’s Hickey getting his helmet ripped off followed by him throwing a punch or two, so it will be worth keeping an eye on any potential discipline.

The game got off to a frantic start, with the two teams combining for 11 shots on goal in just over five minutes and each side ringing the post once on top of that. Keller went first, racing in shorthanded after a nice steal before pulling up and hitting pipe. Less than a minute later, Matthew Gaudreau set up Brown for a nice chance in the slot, but Brown likewise found nothing but iron.

Things slowed down a little after the early back-and-forth chances, but a key stretch came late in the period when BU got back-to-back power plays, including a 23-second 5-on-3 advantage. The Terriers got a few shots on goal, but they came from the outside and BC did a good job clearing rebounds and getting the kill.

It sounds weird to even suggest that Boston College getting to the Hockey East championship game was improbable, especially considering that the Eagles earned a share of the league’s regular-season title. But just a couple weeks ago, few people would’ve predicted that BC would be here.

The Eagles limped to an 0-5-2 record to close out the regular season, watching sole possession of first place and an at-large NCAA tournament bid slip away in the process. It looked like they’d be fortunate just to get by Vermont in the Hockey East quarterfinals.

The Eagles not only got by Vermont; they demolished the Catamounts. They won 7-0 in Game 1 and 7-4 in Game 2. Still, they remained the clear underdogs against archrival Boston University in the semifinals. The Terriers had already beaten BC three times this season and had surrendered just two goals in those contests. And yet, the Eagles triumphed again. Perhaps they’ve figured things out just in time.

The Terriers are still a lock to make the NCAA tournament despite Friday’s loss, while BC will need to beat Lowell Saturday night to make it. The Eagles are looking for their first Hockey East championship since 2012 and trying to avoid missing NCAAs for the first time since 2009.

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