CHESTNUT HILL – Nathaniel Hawthorne's famed scarlet letter "A" is taking on an ominous connotation for the Boston University Terriers these days. After No. 3 Boston College tagged David Quinn's troops with a 6-4 loss on Friday night before a raucous crowd at Conte Forum, keeping the Terriers mired in 10th place in Hockey East, the "A" for the Scarlet and White is starting to look like "also ran."
Despite the promise of a 3-1-0 start to the season, the Terriers (7-12-2; 2-6-1 Hockey East) lost for the fifth straight time, and saw their winless streak grow to seven, at the hands of Jerry York's BC squad. But for Quinn, who saw his team battle back from a 5-2 deficit to almost tie the game, that "A" could just as easily represent "almost," and that was an encouraging sign.
"We've got good character guys in the room, we've got good leadership," said the first-year BU bench boss. "We don't stop. You get down 5-2 to that team, you can pack it in easily, and we made a game of it. We had some chances.
"I'm proud of our guys, the way we competed," he said. "Even when we struggled, we were competing, and like I said, it was a step in the right direction for us."
The Eagles (15-4-3; 9-1-1 HE), meanwhile, guaranteed themselves the season series against their archrivals with the win, and solidified their perch atop the Hockey East standings.
"The [BC-BU] rivalry is something very, very special," said York, who collected career win No. 950. "BU did a tremendous job in the first period. They battled through that, the crowd and the home ice advantage, and clearly outplayed us in the first period. We settled down, and played much better in the second period and the beginning of the third."
Despite coming into the game at opposite ends of the Hockey East standings, the game was extremely tight for the first 10 minutes. BU drew first blood at 10:47, when freshman Robbie Baillargeon took advantage of a sagging BC defense just inside the left dot, and fired a snapshot that beat Eagles goaltender Brian Billett cleanly over the glove for his sixth of the season. It was a promising start for BU, which had managed a winning record (6-5-2) when scoring first this year.
"BU took it to us that first period," said York. "We were upset with that first period. The crowd got us back into it."
The Eagles knotted the game with less than a minute to go in the opening stanza, taking advantage of a Garrett Noonan interference penalty. BC's Teddy Doherty collected the puck at the left point, and fired a crisp pass down low to an unmarked Adam Gilmour. The freshman from Hanover, Mass., coolly pulled the puck across the crease and tucked it between the legs of BU netminder Sean Maguire for a power-play tally at 19:14.
"I thought our power play and penalty kill were both very good tonight, and they had to be," said York.
Maguire (38 saves) kept the Terriers in the game with two exceptional saves just four minutes into the second period. The sophomore from British Columbia first stuffed Bill Arnold's backhand bid with a diving blocker save, and then absolutely robbed Michael Sit with his catching glove seconds later. However, the third time was the charm for the Eagles. After Maguire failed to controlled the rebound of a Danny Linell wrister, Quinn Smith pounced on the puck and buried it at 4:35 for a 2-1 BC lead.
Another Noonan penalty again proved costly to BU, as the Eagles' top line extended BC's lead to 3-1 at 11:05. Eagle senior Kevin Hayes, dangling near the right half-wall, sent a cross-ice pass to Arnold, who immediately found Johnny Gaudreau in the slot. The junior scoring sensation simply redirected Arnold's pinpoint pass past behind Maguire for his 20th goal of the season.
"Obviously, our penalty kill has got to get better," said Quinn. "It's killed us the last two games."
BC's Michael Matheson nearly stretched the lead to 4-1 just past the 16-minute mark, when he slashed across the crease and slipped the puck behind Maguire. However, the puck hit the post, ricocheted off Maguire and appeared to be heading into the net when BU's Kevin Duane swept it off the goal line.
Duane was also instrumental in getting the Terriers back in the game at 2:50 of the third. Working out of the left corner, Duane shoveled a backhand pass to T.J. Ryan at the doorstep, and the freshman from West Newton, Mass., flipped it past Billett for his first career goal, cutting the BC lead to 3-2.
Just 3½ minutes later, however, the Eagles regained their two-goal margin on Chris Calnan's strike, off a feed from Gilmour, at 6:20. The pair connected again at 9:27 to salt away the Eagles 15th win on the season, at 9:27. Calnan, picking up the puck from teammate Brendan Silk, drove down the right side, and then feathered a beautiful pass between two BU defenders to Gilmour, who simply tapped it into the open net for a commanding 5-2 BC lead.
"Our game was pushed by Adam's line," said York. "I thought they were outstanding tonight. They've really come together. They're three big kids, and they did a lot of positive, positive things."
Billett gave the Terriers a glimmer of hope at 11:11, when he allowed Mike Moran's wide-angle prayer from the left wing to sneak through, cutting the Eagle lead to 5-3. BU's Cason Hohmann then buried a one-timer from the left side at 16:32 for a power-play goal, getting the Terriers within sniffing distance of the Eagles, 5-4.
However, it proved to be BU's last gasp, as Billett blunted several late scoring chances, and Gaudreau iced the win with a backhander from half-ice that skidded into an empty BU net at 19:22.
"There were a lot of good things from our end," said Quinn. "Obviously, you hate losing, but I thought we took a big step in the right direction tonight. It actually started in the third period against Maine [Saturday at Frozen Fenway]. Hopefully, we will get rewarded with a win, and hopefully we can start getting a little bit of a snowball effect from a winning aspect, kind of like this losing aspect has picked up a snowball effect."