NORTH ANDOVER - When fourth-ranked Boston College needed a win to take over first place in Hockey East, Parker Milner brought his “A’’ game.
In fact, Milner has played well in each of the Eagles’ last seven games, all wins, though the seventh might have been the most impressive.
The junior goaltender stopped 30 shots last night at Lawler Arena, keeping the Eagles (20-10-1, 15-7-1) in contention until they finally scored the go-ahead goal late in the third period to pick up a 2-1 win over Merrimack (15-9-6, 11-8-4).
With Boston University’s loss to UMass-Lowell, the Eagles moved into sole possession of first place in the conference.
“From my perspective, the game had a real playoff feel to it,’’ said BC coach Jerry York, who picked up his 901st career win. “The intensity of the game, the checking, the physical play, the goaltending on both ends. I guess we are in a playoff run now in that race to win a championship. And it was that type of game.’’
Milner stopped 26 shots in the first two periods, when Merrimack coach Mark Dennehy thought his team played as well as it has all season. But the Eagles controlled the third period, holding the Warriors to two shots on goal in the final 17 minutes.
Milner’s last save might have been his best. After Merrimack pulled goalie Joe Cannata for an extra attacker, a failed BC clearance led to a one-timer off a cross-ice pass that Milner stuffed to preserve the win.
“He came up big with that,’’ said York. “To stay square to the puck and slide across the goal . . . and there was no rebound on the play.’’
Milner had to be ready from the get-go, as there was no shortage of energy in an opening period that included five penalties in the first 10 minutes. The physicality came as no surprise to the sellout crowd, which has watched the Warriors pile up 17.6 penalty minutes per game, second most among Hockey East teams heading into the game.
The chippy play took away from a solid first five minutes for the home team. But when Kyle Singleton was called for hitting from behind, the Eagles’ power play - which had been on fire (11 for 32) during their six-game winning streak - went to work. After struggling to set up in the Merrimack zone, BC finally got a prime scoring chance when quick puck movement led to a wide-open shot by Brian Dumoulin to put the Eagles up, 1-0.
“He’s certainly one of the premier defensemen in Hockey East and in the nation,’’ York said of Dumoulin, a junior with five goals and 19 assists. “And he seems to be getting better as I watch each week. He’s always had high-end offensive skills, but he’s playing his position much, much better.’’
Merrimack regained some momentum late in the period, but Milner continued to deny scoring chances, making his second save off a breakaway when Brandon Brodhag couldn’t convert on the backhand.
Milner finally caved, though, when Jesse Todd found open ice and snapped a wrister to the top right corner at 8:56 of the second period.
But the Eagles’ patient play paid off late in the third, when senior Tommy Cross slapped a bullet from the point. Cannata made the initial save, but the rebound went straight to senior Paul Carey, who went top shelf from the slot at 14:29.
Milner took care of it from there. The junior has a 1.71 goals-against average and .931 save percentage during the seven-game winning streak.
“I think his ability to be more consistent [has impressed me],’’ York said. “You don’t win at this level unless your goaltender gives you a pretty strong effort, especially tonight.’’