Hockey East officials expected a close race for the regular-season title this season, so they cast a second trophy, anticipating a possible tie for first place.
But Boston University went the league one better, taking a 4-1 victory over visiting Notre Dame on Saturday night, producing Hockey East’s first three-way tie for the title.
The Terriers (21-10-3, 13-6-3) equaled UMass Lowell (14-7-1) and Boston College (13-6-3) with 29 points. UMass Lowell earned the No. 1 conference tournament seed on head-to-head results, with BU second and BC third.
Notre Dame (19-10-5, 12-6-4), which had a chance to win the league outright with a victory, finished fourth with 28 points.
BU coach David Quinn said, “I’m really proud of the way we finished this season, because the sky was falling, if you listen to everybody in the hockey world. I think we’ve dusted ourselves off over the last two weekends and I think we got our game to another level, especially the last two games.”
On Friday night, the Fighting Irish had increased their unbeaten streak to seven games (5-0-2) with a 3-1 victory over BU.
“And that team forces you to bring your game to another level,” Quinn said of Notre Dame. “You’ve got to play hard, compete, there can’t be any BS in our your game if you’re going to compete with that team. And I thought we made a jump over the last two days, how hard we played, how hard we competed — not playing pond hockey, playing playoff hockey.”
Clayton Keller scored two third-period goals as the Terriers rallied in the last two periods.
Notre Dame took the lead as Mike O’Leary scored his second goal of the season, converting off a rebound at 15:19 of the first period. O’Leary’s shot was saved by Jake Oettinger, but he then carried the puck into the net under pressur.
Less than two minutes later, Oettinger (40 saves) saved a point-blank Cam Morrison attempt. BU nearly equalized as Keller misfired in the crease, his momentum carrying him past Cal Petersen (32 saves) and into the net.
In the second period, Kieffer Bellows ignited BU, finishing a rebound to equalize with a power-play goal at 9:21. John MacLeod broke the deadlock with a drive from the point at 16:30.
The Terriers stayed in control, improving their record to 16-0-1 in games in which they have had lead after either intermission.
Notre Dame coach Jeff Jackson said, “[Friday’s game] took a lot out of [the Irish] physically and emotionally and we didn’t have enough in us tonight to do it again. I don’t think anybody was thinking we were coming here playing for first place.
“We came here with the idea we were going to get home ice, that was our objective. All the rest happened in the last 24 hours. This league is so tight, any of the teams in the top four, top five or six, can win a championship, it’s that close.”
Keller upped the edge to 3-1, deflecting in a Dante Fabbro drive from the point at 4:08 of the final period.
Just more than a minute later, Jordan Greenway had a breakaway stopped with a chance to extend the advantage.
Later, Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson sped ahead of the defense but missed wide. Seconds later, Keller beat Petersen glove side from the left circle off a Bobo Carpenter feed for a three-goal advantage at 16:30.
“We set that goal the beginning of the year, that this was kind of the first step,” Keller said. “It’s very special to do that.”
“But now the Hockey East playoffs is the most important thing to us, so I think we’re just going to do everything to prepare for that.”
BU earned a first-round tourney bye and will begin postseason play in the quarterfinals March 10.
“Obviously, we’ve got to keep getting better, balance the rest with practicing and continue to improve,” Quinn said. “We talked in the locker room, we’ve got another level. We can’t sit around patting ourselves on the back because we shared the league championship. I want to enjoy it right now, but once we get back to practicing on Tuesday, who cares? There’s another trophy to be won and we’re one of 12 teams that has a chance to win it. It’s a clean slate and everybody starts brand new and we’ve got to move past it.”