Given No. 1 Boston College’s status in Hockey East, having already clinched the regular-season crown, it might have appeared there wasn’t a great deal on the line for the Eagles heading into Saturday’s finale against league rival Notre Dame.
But that simply wasn’t true. There was the team’s unbeaten streak that began in early December, there was junior left wing Johnny Gaudreau’s extraordinary point streak, and there was a desire to enter a nearly two-week break on a roll.
The Fighting Irish had plenty of incentive, too. The goaltending tandem of seniors Steven Summerhays and Joe Rogers wanted to keep their program-record shutout streak going.
In addition, Notre Dame was unbeaten in five straight entering the game at Conte Forum, and wanted to sustain its momentum heading into a single-elimination home game in the conference tournament next weekend.
The Eagles and Irish engaged in a defensive standoff, and Notre Dame skated away with a 2-1 overtime victory.
Freshman Vince Hinostroza fired a wrist shot from the left point that deflected off the stick of BC center Patrick Brown in front, popped up into the air, and sailed over BC freshman goaltender Thatcher Demko (19 saves) high to the blocker side with 3:04 remaining in the extra frame.
BC (25-5-4, 16-2-2) suffered its first loss since Nov. 29 and first conference defeat since Nov. 23. The Eagles’ 19-game unbeaten streak ended (17-0-2) but Gaudreau kept his streak alive by scoring the Eagles’ goal. Gaudreau has at least a point in the last 28 contests, with 27 goals and 29 assists in that span. He finished the regular season with 30 goals and 34 assists in 34 games.
Gaudreau’s goal, at 1:31 of the third period on a power play, tied the score and ended the Irish’s shutout streak at 232 minutes, 42 seconds. Summerhays, who made 19 saves Saturday, was in goal for shutouts of Providence Feb. 15 and Boston University Feb. 21. He and Rogers shared the shutout of BU Feb. 22.
“We’re playing better,’’ said coach Jeff Jackson, whose team (20-12-2, 9-9-2) took the lead on Kevin Lind’s goal at the 32-second mark of the second period. “The first half [of the season] was tough. We had a lot of different things going on. Even now, we’re not playing with a full lineup, but the thing is, the guys that are on the ice have done a good job. We’re playing more composed right now.’’
Jackson said Summerhays will be a very important component come playoff time.
“He’s back to where I think he’s capable of,’’ Jackson said. “He has the capabilities to play like that every night. He had some inconsistencies starting the second half. I don’t think he was really sharp after Christmas. Obviously, that’s where it all starts. Your goaltender has to be your difference-maker.’’
For the Eagles, the challenge will be surviving the long break without getting rusty. BC will host a Hockey East quarterfinal series beginning March 14.
“It puts us in an unusual situation,’’ said coach Jerry York. “We like to play games. We want a rhythm to play in. I understand, everybody wants to make the playoffs, but I have a hard time now thinking that the five teams that sit out [next] week, it’s not great for all of us to sit out two weeks. We’ll have to adapt to it and utilize our time and everything. But we always like to play games.’’
For now, BC must wait to find out who’s up next.