It’s crowded at the top of the Hockey East standings and on Friday night, No. 9 Boston College and New Hampshire squared off at Conte Forum in an effort to gain better position.
In the first game of a two-game home-and-home series, the Eagles got the better of the matchup with a 6-2 victory in front of 6,277.
BC (9-4-2) erupted for four goals in the middle period and scored one each in the first and third to snap a two-game losing streak.
“I thought Brian Billett made some outstanding saves,’’ said BC coach Jerry York. “Our team was very opportunistic. We had some chances and we didn’t miss many. That was a real plus for us.’’
It didn’t take the home team long to break through. Just 1 minute, 7 seconds into the action, BC left wing Johnny Gaudreau raced in on a breakaway, beating junior Casey DeSmith on a forehand shot from the slot that connected just inside the left post.
It was the junior’s 13th tally of the season and it ran his scoring streak to 10 games with 18 points, 10 goals, in that span.
Senior center Bill Arnold threw a lead pass for Gaudreau and it squirted through two UNH defenders before finding Gaudreau’s stick.
UNH had a ton of chances in the first with 14 shots to just four for BC. Six minutes in, junior left wing Casey Thrush backhanded a shot off the post.
In addition, senior defenseman Eric Knodel had four bids in the period, one from the left point with 10:05 remaining, but Billett snared it with his glove.
UNH had a pair of power plays in the opening 20 minutes but couldn’t convert.
In the early moments of the second, the Wildcats pulled even. Senior right wing Jeff Silengo, who was positioned in the high slot, rapped home a shot past Billett (39 saves) at the 18-second mark.
The Eagles answered at 1:06 to go up, 2-1. Destry Straight threw it at the net from the left circle. Freshman defenseman Steve Santini was on the doorstep to bang in the rebound for his second of the season.
The next two belonged to BC as well. After Gaudreau was assessed a hitting from behind penalty, UNH had a chance to tie things up again, but the Eagles’ penalty killing was excellent and the Wildcats never even had a chance to set up before the puck was forced out of the zone.
BC earned its first two-goal lead of the evening at 15:04. Gaudreau set it up on his pass from the left circle and freshman right wing Austin Cangelosi in front and DeSmith couldn’t stop it.
It was the seventh strike of the year for Cangelosi.
Less than a minute and a half later, the Eagles parlayed their offensive play into a three-goal lead. Defenseman Teddy Doherty batted down a loose puck in the UNH zone and then whacked in a wraparound at the right post to make it 4-1.
BC rallied for another goal with 3:16 left in the period. This time it was right wing Kevin Hayes, who skated down the left circle and snapped a shot past DeSmith, which caused UNH coach Dick Umile to replace his mainstay with senior Jeff Wyer. DeSmith gave up five goals on 17 shots.
The Eagles continued the pressure into the third. At 4:59, Cangelosi dished a pass to freshman Ryan Fitzgerald in front. Fitzgerald got a whack at it and Straight jammed it home to make it 6-1.
Wildcats junior defenseman Trevor van Riemsdyk launched a shot from the left point that found its way past Billett at 6:50 for his fourth of the year. But UNH’s two-game winning streak ended and BC moved into second place with 11 points.
“I was disappointed in the way we played tonight, especially in the second period,’’ said Umile. “We just gave it to them in the second period. We want to make a fight out of it and we didn’t make a fight out of it the second period. Obviously they finished on their plays and we didn’t and maybe [Billett] won the game tonight.’’Nancy Marrapese-Burrell can be reached at email@example.com.