CHESTNUT HILL, Mass. -- Late last year, the Providence Friars threw a wrench into Boston College's celebration plans, denying Eagles head coach Jerry York a record-setting 925th career victory by grabbing a last-second 3-3 tie on Dec. 7 against the then-No. 2 team in the nation. York and his Eagles would have to wait another three weeks to get his historic win.
Saturday night, the Friars (14-11-7; 12-7-6 Hockey East) were up to their old tricks again, bouncing back from Friday's 3-2 loss against the Eagles at home to capture a 5-1 victory at BC's Conte Forum, securing a weekend split and spoiling Senior Night for the Eagles seniors and a crowd of 7,884. The win allowed the Friars to keep pace with the No. 4 Eagles (19-10-3; 14-9-2 HE) in the race for the Hockey East regular-season crown, and prevented the Eagles from taking a two-point lead over idle UMass Lowell.
Meanwhile, New Hampshire took over the top spot in Hockey East, at least for 24 hours, after defeating UMass 4-0 and taking three of a possible four points from the Minutemen on the weekend.
"We wanted to answer back," said Providence coach Nate Leaman, referring to Friday's defeat. "We've been a pretty good road team here in the second half of the season, and that was the focus. We wanted to make sure we answered back after the tough loss last night. So, just like every game, it's just one game, and we wanted to make sure that we brought our best."
Holding a slim 1-0 lead entering the final period, the Friars scored the next four goals to win going away, snapping an 18-game winless streak against the Eagles (0-15-3 since February 2008). The loss drops BC from fourth in the national PairWise Rankings to ninth.
"I've had better Saturday afternoons," said York afterward. "I thought we played pretty solid hockey through two periods, and they just wore us down in the third period."
A relatively quiet see-saw match for the first dozen minutes, the game changed dramatically at 12:30 of the first. Boston College had a Grade-A chance to break the scoreless deadlock when Providence netminder John Gillies misjudged a dump-in, and the puck skittered in front of a wide-open cage. Eagle Brendan Silk was the first to the puck, but his shot was denied by a diving Gillies, who deflected Silk's bid with the paddle of his goalie stick.
"BC is such a dangerous team," said Leaman. "If you're going to be successful against them, your goaltender is going to have to make some saves. I thought Johnny was outstanding all night."
Just 24 seconds later, the Friars made the best of the highlight-reel save by their big freshman goaltender. Chris Rooney intercepted a wraparound deep in the right corner of the Eagles zone, and fired a pass to the low slot to a waiting Noel Acciari. The freshman from Rhode Island wasted no time, snapping a shot that beat BC's Parker Milner cleanly at 12:56 for a 1-0 Friar lead.
BC captain Pat Mullane almost got the equalizer at 3:32 of the second, but his slap shot from above the right face-off circle found only iron. It was one of only a few quality opportunities in the middle stanza, as both squads failed to generate any consistent pressure.
With less than three minutes remaining, the Friars had a pair of chances, but couldn't extend their lead. PC's Brandon Tanev jumped on a rebound at the left corner of the crease, but Milner was equal to the task, snuffing the bid. Kevin Rooney also had a chance when he got a half step on the BC defense, but fired his shot over the net.
The Eagles came out in the third with an extra hop in their step, and junior defender Isaac MacLeod narrowly missed knotting the game when his uncontested blast from inside the right point sailed wide. Moments later, though BC again shot itself in the foot, when senior Brooks Dyroff was whistled for high sticking. The Friars took full advantage of the man advantage.
"Real early in the period, maybe the first shift, Isaac MacLeod had a really good chance to score to tie it 1-1," said York. "He really got a lot of wood on that shot, and it just missed the net. Then they capitalized on two penalties and just kind of wore us down in the third period. That kind of sums it up in a nutshell."
With Dyroff in the box, the Friars worked the puck around the perimeter before PC's John Gilmour sent a slap-pass into the low slot. Nick Saracino picked up the puck, deftly stepped around Milner, and deposited it into the net for a 2-0 Friar lead at 1:42.
BC's talented freshman defender Mike Matheson then took a frustration penalty, knocking down Acciari in the crease. Again the Friars cashed in, with defender Tom Parisi flicking a wrist shot through a maze of bodies and past Milner at 3:17.
"Young guy, still learning," said York of Matheson. "He's got to grow from these types of games. Last night I thought he was probably the best players on the ice for both teams, and tonight he kind of hit a wall a little bit."
Just 17 seconds later, PC stretched the lead to 4-0, when senior Chris Rooney redirected a mid-air shot from his cousin, freshman Kevin Rooney, just under the crossbar and into the net. (Chris Rooney is the son of Steve Rooney, who scored the game-winning goal for Providence when the Friars won the inaugural Hockey East championship in 1985, beating BC in double overtime, 2-1).
"I thought we were fragile early," said Leaman. "I thought we were playing, but we were a little tight and a little fragile. The first goal helped us. And then in the third period, you saw once we got that second one, the guys loosened up a little bit and fortunately for us it went well the rest of the way."
Two minutes later, Acciari applied the finishing touch, squeezing a backhander between Milner's body and left arm, giving Providence a commanding 5-0 lead and chasing the senior goaltender from the game. Sophomore Brad Barone came on in relief for his first action of the season.
"It was a pretty close game, and we kind of found a way to break it open in the third period and get a couple past Milner," said Leaman. "He's an excellent goalie, and I think we got a couple of bounces on him."
BC's Quinn Smith gave the Eagles some measure of satisfaction when he roofed the puck past Gillies at 18:40 of the third, denying the Providence netminder his fifth shutout of the year.
Both coaches predicted that the remarkably tight race for the regular season Hockey East crown, and home-ice in the playoffs, would likely come down to next Saturday and the season's final games. Providence has a home-and-home series with UMass Lowell, while BC travels to Vermont for a pair against the Catamounts. York said he hopes to have some of his injured starters, including assistant captains Steve Whitney and Patrick Wey, back in the lineup.
"Sometimes, injuries run in streaks," said York. "We've got a lot of good players, so we're not going to dwell on that. We're hoping that down the stretch, we're not going to get (Kevin Hayes) back, that's for sure, but there's a good possibility that we'll get Patch (Alber) back, and I'm hoping Whitney and Wey can get back. But all teams go through it."