On paper, it appeared that Boston University would have no chance against archrival Boston College, the No. 2-ranked team in the nation.
But the Beanpot Tournament is one of those events that frequently doesn’t go the way it seems it should.
Monday night at TD Garden, although the team expected to win did, the Eagles had to fend off a very determined group of Terriers before they could celebrate a 3-1 victory.
BC advanced to the championship game next Monday against No. 11 Northeastern and is looking to earn its fifth consecutive Beanpot crown, which would be a program record. The Eagles set a program record by making it to a fifth straight title game.
BC and Northeastern will be squaring off in the title game for the third time in the last four seasons.
Although wins have been in short supply for the undermanned BU squad (8-15-3), Monday night was one of the team’s top performances of the season, full of passion and grit. There has been determination at times but consistency has been very hard to come by.
“We certainly understood the challenge we had tonight,’’ said BU coach David Quinn, whose team was 0 for 5 on the power play to BC’s 1 for 2. “I can’t tell you how proud I am of our team, I thought we were ready to play from the get-go. Obviously, the difference in the game was they got a power-play goal and we didn’t. We showed an awful lot of courage down, 2-0. Obviously, they’re so dangerous. But boy, I can’t tell you how proud I am of our players. We competed from the drop of the puck until the [final] whistle blew.
“We need to build on this. We’ve got to make sure we take this approach during the Beanpot when we’re playing BC but for the rest of the season.’’
BC just keeps rolling. The Eagles are unbeaten in 13 games (12-0-1) and improved to 20-4-3 overall.
Freshman left wing Ryan Fitzgerald put his team on the board at 4:04 of the first period, his ninth goal of the year, on a shot from the right circle during a power play.
BC made it 2-0 at 1:20 of the second. Junior left wing Johnny Gaudreau, the top scorer in the nation, drew a crowd in the left circle of the BU zone. He got the puck to senior center Bill Arnold, who dished to senior right wing Kevin Hayes at the back door and Hayes beat sophomore goalie Matt O’Connor (29 saves) from just outside the right post.
Gaudreau increased his scoring streak to 22 games and has 21 goals and 24 assists in that span.
The Terriers cut the deficit in half at 6:43 of the third.
Sophomore right wing Danny O’Regan started the play by knocking down a clear attempt by BC freshman goaltender Thatcher Demko (27 saves).
He centered a pass to freshman center Robbie Baillargeon in the high slot and Baillargeon beat Demko on a shot high to the glove side.
But that was as close as BU would come.
With O’Connor off for an extra attacker, Gaudreau closed it out with an empty-net tally with 30.5 seconds remaining, his 24th goal of the season.
BC has swept BU in three meetings this season. But each time, the Terriers have played better.
“We’ve played BU three times now and each time it’s been a more difficult game,’’ said BC coach Jerry York. “BU has improved remarkably from when we first saw them earlier in the season [when BC earned a 5-1 win Nov. 8]. Tonight was basically a one-goal game.’’
With a fifth straight trophy on the line, York said his team has grown used to the expectations and he sees that as a positive.
“We tell our players an awful lot that pressure is good for you,’’ he said. “It makes you get up in the morning, it makes you work harder, it makes you more alert, so we welcome pressure.
“We have a good team, we know that, and now we’re expected to play very, very well and win some trophies. That’s something we embrace.
“So many people look the other way [and say], ‘Gee, I don’t want the pressure. I’d rather be the underdog.’ I think it’s something we’ve talked about and the more pressure, it makes you just more alert and work harder. It’s good for you.’’
Nancy Marrapese-Burrell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org