It was a matchup between two of the top teams in the nation — No. 1 Boston College and No. 7 UMass-Lowell.
But it was also a game that pitted the nation’s best offense (the Eagles’ 4.39 goals per contest average) against the nation’s best defense (the River Hawks allowing just 1.93 goals per outing).
In the end, BC’s finesse up front and strong goaltending by freshman Thatcher Demko (33 saves) were too much to overcome as the Eagles skated to a 3-0 victory at Conte Forum.
The win extended the Eagles’ unbeaten streak to 18 games (17-0-1).
Junior left wing Johnny Gaudreau, who potted BC’s first tally, extended his scoring streak to 27, games with 25 goals and 29 assists in that span.
“One of the things we talked about to our team this week was even though we’ve won a trophy, we have to stay hungry and we have to keep improving,’’ said BC coach Jerry York, whose squad has already clinched the Hockey East regular-season title. “I think our kids understood that. You can’t stand still because other teams are going to move by you. There is still a lot left in our season. I thought tonight might have been as solid an effort for 60 minutes from the goaltender to defense to the forwards that we’ve had this year.’’
For UML, it was the end to its unbeaten streak, which had reached six games (5-0-1).
Gaudreau put BC on the board at 13:01 of the first period during a power play with a tough-angle shot from deep in the left circle that beat goalie Connor Hellebuyck (31 saves) high to the glove side. It was his 28th of the year.
BC (25-4-3, 16-1-1) was challenged to kill off a five-minute major beginning at 10:15 of the second when senior defenseman Isaac MacLeod was whistled off for the major and a game misconduct for contact to the head of River Hawks junior defenseman Jake Suter.
But the Eagles’ nation-best penalty killing unit came through, particularly given that Michael Matheson was out of the lineup because he was dinged up and MacLeod, the team’s best penalty killer, was ejected. Senior right wing Kevin Hayes even played some defense to help out the team.
“I thought all our [defensemen] stepped up to the plate when we needed them,’’ said Demko. “I know it’s hard to do and they just battled through and played really strong throughout the entire game. There were probably one or two redirects on their five-minute major that they got through to the net. Our [defense] did a great job of boxing guys out so they didn’t get very many second opportunities throughout, which makes my job a little bit easier.’’
BC broke the game open early in the third with scores less than two minutes. Freshman center Adam Gilmour redirected a feed from freshman defenseman Scott Savage at 3:15 that eluded Hellebuyck, and freshman right wing Austin Cangelosi made his presence felt at 5:08 when he beat Hellebuyck with a backhand shot to the stick side during a breakaway.
The teams will square off again Saturday night at the Tsongas Center.
UMass-Lowell coach Norm Bazin, whose squad dropped to 20-8-3 and 10-5-2, said his team will regroup.
“We did a lot of watching tonight, especially in the first period,’’ said Bazin. “They seemed to be clicking pretty well. We didn’t have enough offensive-zone time. We’ve been better than that in the last few weeks. We certainly earned what we got tonight.’’Nancy Marrapese-Burrell can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @Elle1027.