Though Boston College hockey's hustling, lightning-quick style may resemble the rabbit in Aesop's classic fable, the Eagles took the tortoise's steady approach on their way to the Hockey East regular-season championship, which they sewed up in dramatic fashion with a come-from-behind 4-3 win at New Hampshire on Saturday.
Saturday night's game played out much like the regular season, with No. 7 New Hampshire (19-9-6, 17-6-4 HE) jumping out front 2-0 and the No. 2 Eagles (26-7-1, 20-6-1 Hockey East) patiently clawing their way back into the match. But it was Pat Mullane's strike at 15:07 of the third period that proved the game-winner, breaking a 3-3 deadlock and giving the Eagles their first regular-season crown since the 2004-05 season.
The win gives Boston College top seed through the playoffs, which begin next Friday with BC hosting the Massachusetts Minutemen in a repeat of last year's opening quarterfinal.
New Hampshire, meanwhile, must deal with yet another late-season swoon. Last year, the offensively gifted Wildcats hung on to capture the regular-season title, only to be dumped unceremoniously in the Hockey East quarterfinals by eighth-seeded Vermont. Next week, the Wildcats will again host the Catamounts, and have to overcome this weekend's double setback to find their winning touch if they want to advance to the Hockey East semifinals at TD Garden in Boston on March 18.
The night looked promising early on for UNH, with Dalton Speelman putting the Wildcats up 1-0 with less than two minutes remaining in the opening period, and Mike Sislo doubling the lead at the 38-second mark of the second with a power-play tally.
However, BC rebounded on a power-play goal by Barry Almeida and then struck with a dagger by Cam Atkinson, who scored with only 13 ticks on the clock to end the second period.
BC's Tommy Cross gave the Eagles a 3-2 advantage at 3:52 of the third, but UNH's Phil DeSimone answered exactly six minutes later, setting the stage for Mullane's late game-winner.
The win gave the decorated senior class at BC, including captains Joe Whitney and Brian Gibbons and goaltender John Muse, their first regular-season crown. They also have some serious momentum for the tournament, going 18-2-1 in their past 21 games.
In other local college hockey action:
Northeastern 4, No. 13 Boston University 3
Northeastern (12-14-8, 10-10-7 Hockey East), powered by two goals less than a minute apart in the third period, outdistanced the Terriers (18-10-8, 15-6-6 HE) by a 4-3 margin at the Agganis Arena on Saturday in the regular-season finale for both teams. The two, already well-acquainted, will meet again next weekend in the best-of-three opening round of the Hockey East playoffs, hosted by the third-seeded BU.
No. 14 Maine 4 , UMass 4 (OT)
A spirited UMass squad (6-21-6, 5-16-6 Hockey East) rallied for a 4-4 overtime draw against the Black Bears (17-10-7, 14-8-5 HE) to secure the eighth and final spot in the Hockey East playoffs. Minuteman Adam Phillips put UMass up 4-3 at 17:56 of the third, but Maine's Robby Dee knotted the score 19 seconds later and the two teams skated through a scoreless overtime session. The Minutemen's celebration will be short-lived, though, as they'll start preparations to take on top-seeded Boston College in an encore of last year's quarterfinals.
Providence 5, No. 7 Merrimack 3
This can't be how Merrimack coach Mark Dennehy wanted to go into the second season. After securing the fourth seed and home ice in the Hockey East playoffs on Friday, the Warriors (22-8-4, 16-8-3 Hockey East) stumbled on Saturday, dropping a 5-3 decision when the Friars (8-18-8, 4-16-7 HE) rung up four unanswered goals at Providence. Despite a gritty effort in front of their home fans, the Friars fell just short of their bid for the final Hockey East playoff spot and were bounced from contention when UMass tied the Black Bears. Merrimack will host Maine in the Hockey East quarterfinals.
Vermont 4, UMass Lowell 2
The Catamounts (8-18-8, 6-14-7 Hockey East) will enter the playoffs on a high note after Saturday's 4-2 win, taking three of a possible four points from the River Hawks (5-25-4, 4-21-2 HE) to lock up seventh place in the league standings and a date next week with second-seeded New Hampshire. Vermont got goals from four different players and solid goaltending from Rob Madore, the hero of last season's quarterfinal win over UNH.
Harvard 6, Clarkson 4
In the second game of the best-of-three opening-round ECAC Hockey playoffs, the Crimson (11-19-1) dismissed Clarkson (15-19-2) from the playoffs with a 6-4 win in Potsdam, N.Y. It was the Crimson's seventh win in their past eight games, a streak that started with Harvard's stunning win over Boston University in the Beanpot consolation game on Feb. 14.