Eagles at their best in win over Friars

CHESTNUT HILL -- The Boston College Eagles, powered by outstanding performances from their best players, including two goals by junior All-American Johnny Gaudreau, overpowered the Providence Friars, 5-2, in a Top 10 battle before a home crowd of 7,884 at Conte Forum.

"I think it was our best 60 minutes as a team, from my vantage point, that we've played this year," said BC coach Jerry York, who recorded career win No. 949. "We've been pretty solid all year, but I think this 60 minutes was our best."

Despite being side-by-side in the national standings (BC at No. 5, Providence at 6) and just two points apart in the Hockey East standings, the squads came into the game on opposite ends of the momentum train. The Friars (13-5-4; 6-4-1 Hockey East) were winless in their last three, with two one-goal losses sandwiching a 1-1 tie at Fenway Park last Saturday against Merrimack.

Boston College (14-4-2; 8-1-1 HE), meanwhile, has been on fire, rebounding from back-to-back losses to Maine and Holy Cross in late November to post five straight wins, including a big 4-3 victory over Notre Dame at Frozen Fenway.

Friday night, the Eagles seized on that momentum from the opening face-off, putting the Friars back on their heels and forcing PC's fine sophomore goaltender John Gillies (26 saves) to make several top-notch stops.

That sustained pressure paid off at 7:29, with three of BC's 10 NHL draft picks combining on a beautiful goal. Just as a penalty to PC's John Gilmore was expiring, BC sophomore Michael Matheson slipped the puck to Jimmy Hayes in the high slot, who redirected it to Gaudreau at the right face-off dot. The New Jersey native didn't hesitate, snapping off a one-timer past the glove of a diving Gillies for his 18th goal of the year and a 1-0 Eagles lead.

"Right from the hop, I thought we had a little more determination in our team tonight, a little more resolve," said York. "But Gillies and the Friars hung in there. We did everything to break that game open, but Providence refused to let that happen."

Gaudreau's goal seemed to shake the Friars out of their doldrums, and Nate Leaman's troops started to trade scoring opportunities with BC.

"We gave them too much respect coming out of the gates," said Leaman. "I was a little disappointed in that. We obviously didn't have the start we wanted. But I thought we rebounded nicely, and we kept getting stronger."

At 15:31, the Friars pulled even, when PC's Shane Luke found a seam between two BC defenders at the top of the crease, and Ross Mauermann, circling behind the net, found Luke. The junior from Manitoba took Mauermann's feed and stuffed it past BC's Brian Billett (26 saves) for his seventh on the campaign.

Gillies kept the game deadlocked when, moments later, BC's Michael Sit fired a wrister that got behind the PC goalie. Gillies, however, spun acrobatically and was able to cover the puck just before Sit pushed him over the goal line.

Providence surged ahead, 2-1, at 13:51 of the second period, just as the Eagles finished killing off a power play. BC's Matheson, after serving two minutes for interference, hesitated as he left the box, then went to the Eagle bench. PC capitalized, when Nick Saracino broke down the left wing and spied Derek Army slicing down the slot. Army redirected Saracino's feed high over Billett's glove for the Friars' first lead of the night.

Less than three minutes later, however, BC knotted the game, 2-2, on another tremendous display of passing. The play again started with Matheson, who collected the puck at the left point and fed it to Gaudreau in the right corner. As Gaudreau dangled, BC's Bill Arnold (another NHL draftee) slid to the top of the crease. Gaudreau fired a pinpoint pass to Arnold, and the senior assistant captain from Needham, Mass., simply steered it past Gillies for a power-play goal at 16:37.

"It's been a frustrating year for us as far as how well we've played on the PP, but the last week or so, it just seems to have clicked," said York. "Not just the goals, but moving pucks and creating chances. That's part of our offense that we have to depend on as the year goes on."

The see-saw scoring continued in the third period, when BC regained the lead at the 37-second mark on another power-play strike, after Providence was whistled for having too many Friars on the ice. Eagles captain Patrick Brown, parked in front of Gillies, redirected a flicked shot from Hayes past the screened PC netminder.

"He's a really good goaltender," said Brown. "Just like every game, we're trying to get bodies to the net, and take (the goalie's) eyes away."

"I thought their power play was the difference tonight," said PC's Leaman. "Obviously, they get three goals on the power play, and we didn't get the job down on the penalty kill tonight. And that was the difference in the game. If you're going to win a road game in this league, you've got to get it done on the specialty teams."

Gaudreau sealed the Eagles' 14th win on the season at 17:50. Intercepting a soft outlet pass at the blue line, Gaudreau broke in on Gillies, held off PC defenseman Kevin Hart, and flipped a shot that Gillies appeared to stop. However, BC's Hobey Baker candidate followed his shot, and tapped the puck between Gillies' legs for his second of the game and a 4-2 BC lead.

"He's had an unbelievable career here at BC, but he's at the very top of his game," said York. "He's improved every year. Right now, this is the best I've seen him play."

Hayes put the game completely out of reach with an empty-net tally at 19:01, and put the Eagles clearly in the driver's seat in the Hockey East standings.