BOSTON -- The voice of Northeastern coach Greg Cronin matched the chorus of pleas from the fans in black and red in the TD Garden's upper deck last Monday. With the Huskies enjoying a 6-on-4 advantage in the final minute, Cronin and the fans of his team all were imploring the players on the ice to do one thing: Shoot the puck.
"We wouldn't shoot the damn puck," Cronin said in his postgame press conference. "[Assistant coach] Albie O'Connell up above kept radioing down, 'Why won't they shoot the puck?' If you reflect back on the game, I would say, conservatively, we had six chances with the puck on our stick right in front of BU's net and we refused to shoot the puck."
Cronin had to acknowledge one reason why his Huskies might have been spooked: Boston University blocked shot after shot in front of goaltender Kieran Millan, allowing almost nothing to get through. Northeastern was credited with just four shots in the third period of Monday's Beanpot semifinal even as the Huskies scrambled to rally from 1-0 and 2-1 deficits.
The more shots the Terriers can block in Monday's Beanpot final against Boston College, the better. The Eagles lead Hockey East in goals per game (3.67) and rank second behind Maine in shooting percentage (11.6 percent). Of the 16 players in Hockey East who have scored at least 10 goals this season, three play for Boston College.
The fewer scoring chances the Terriers allow, the better their chances of winning their second straight Beanpot title on Monday.
Hulking defenseman Eric Gryba blocked at least three chances all by himself in the final minute against Northeastern, breaking up a centering pass by Tyler McNeely and a shot by Garrett Vandersmeerch before throwing his body at the feet of McNeely at the point, knocking the puck away long enough for the final seconds to tick away.
Millan had to make a glove save to rob Kyle Kraemer, but that was the only real chance the Huskies had to tie the game in the final 90 seconds.
"We really limited them to how many Grade-A shots we gave up considering we had a 5-on-3 and a -on-4 against us in the third period," BU coach Jack Parker said. "We only gave up four shots in the third period, so that's real solid defense. That's a great effort by my team."
Blocking shots has become a forte of the Terriers' talented and experience corps of defensemen. NHL teams hold the rights to five of the six defensemen who played against Northeastern -- including captain Kevin Shattenkirk (a first-round pick of the Colorado Avalanche three years ago) and Gryba (a third-round pick of the Ottawa Senators four years ago).
"We've been bearing down a lot more in front of our own net, and we're limiting other teams' second opportunities," Shattenkirk said. "We did a great job of that in the third. That also comes from our forwards coming back harder, and teams aren't getting those odd-man rushes we were giving up earlier in the year."
Of the top 10 goaltenders in Hockey East this season, only Boston College's John Muse (26.97) has seen fewer shots per 60 minutes than Millan (27.7). For the sake of comparison, Brian Foster has seen 32.12 shots per 60 minutes this season for first-place New Hampshire.
As a team, the Terriers have held opponents to 28.2 shots per game this season -- and they've limited Boston College to fewer than 30 shots in two of their three regular-season meetings this season.
"They just compete really hard," BC center Brian Gibbons said. "Ever since my freshman year, when we've played them, they're always a team that competes really hard. They have the skill level that, if they compete, they're going to be in every game and going to have a chance to win it."
"They know where to be in the right situation," said BC's Cam Atkinson, who leads the Eagles with 16 goals this season. "We just need to slow down a little bit. We don't need to make the touchdown pass every time. We've just got to slow it down, maybe fake a shot and go around them, and try to get as many pucks at net as possible."
Parker not a fan of BC-BU dominance
In giving credit to the Northeastern team his Terriers had ousted, Parker lobbed some of the same criticism at the Beanpot many of its detractors have over the years. Boston College and Boston University have won 43 of the 57 titles, including every single one since 1993. Six of the Beanpot title games since 2000 have matched the Eagles and Terriers against each other.
"I'll tell you very frankly: The Beanpot is losing its luster a little bit if it's going to constantly be BC or BU winning this tournament," he said in his postgame press conference. "We dodged a bullet tonight. These teams are real good hockey programs, Harvard and Northeastern. People are going to get tired of this. People are tired of this, in some ways. People are never tired of a BC-BU game. People always say, 'That's what we want: A BC-BU game.' You know who wants that? BC and BU. That's who wants a BC-BU final. These programs deserve to get out of the long slump they're in, and that's going to come fairly soon -- especially the way Greg and Teddy (Donato) are coaching their teams and recruiting."
Brian MacPherson is a frequent contributor to ESPNBoston.com. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.