WORCESTER, Mass. -- "We're OK, boys. Next one's ours, boys."
That's what the Minnesota-Duluth players said to each other as they left the ice down 2-0 to Boston College after the second period in the Northeast Regional championship game Sunday night at the DCU Center.
When they re-emerged from their dressing room to start the third, it was almost as if the defending national champion Bulldogs were trying to convince themselves they were still in the game.
"Third period is ours, boys. Don't let them control the game."
Easier said than done.
Just 73 seconds into what would be UMD's final period of hockey this season, BC defensemen Patrick Wey took a failed clearing attempt and flipped the puck from outside the right faceoff circle, and it somehow found an opening between goalie Kenny Reiter and the post to give the Eagles a 3-0 lead.
It clearly wasn't the Bulldogs' night. The same could be said about a lot of teams that have faced BC of late -- especially the five schools whose seasons have been ended by the Eagles by a combined score of 19-6 this postseason.
Freshman left wing Johnny Gaudreau scored his 20th goal of the season Sunday on a nifty breakaway move to beat Reiter at the 11:47 mark to make the final score 4-0 and send BC on to the 2012 Frozen Four on April 5. The Eagles will face West Region champion Minnesota (28-13-1) at the Tampa Times Forum at 8 p.m. ET (ESPN2/ESPN3).
The first national semifinal (April 5, 4:30 p.m. ET, ESPNU/ESPN3) will be between two first-time Frozen Four participants in East Region champ Union (26-7-7) and Midwest Region champ Ferris State (25-11-5). The semifinal winners will play for the national championship on April 7 at 7 p.m. ET (ESPN2/ESPN3).
One of the great things about the NCAA hockey tournament is the unpredictability in a one-and-done format. Get hot at the right time and anything can happen. With that in mind, it's interesting that all of this season's Frozen Four teams are also the regular-season champions in the four biggest conferences in the sport. The consistency required to win the longest of the title runs should prove that there are no flukes -- despite any perception based on the names on the front of the sweaters -- in this year's Frozen field.
It should also come as no surprise that the four schools playing in Tampa, Fla., are among the best defensive teams in the nation. Union (1.80) and Boston College (2.07) are ranked Nos. 1 and 2 in scoring defense nationally, while Ferris State (fifth, 2.17) and Minnesota (ninth, 2.21) aren't far behind.
BC advanced to its 23rd Frozen Four appearance and fifth in the past seven years on the strength of two shutouts in regional play. Saturday it was 2-0 over Air Force in a game that saw a completely different style as the Falcons tried to control play and slow down the high-powered Eagles enough to stay in the game, with a chance to pull off an upset late in the game.
Sunday night Minnesota Duluth had the skill level to try to play a high-tempo game, but it was the Eagles who controlled the flow pretty much from start to finish.
Two games. Two shutouts. Too much BC.
The No. 1 team in the country and the top overall seed in the NCAA hockey tournament creates a lot of matchup problems for the Gophers -- and possibly Ferris State or Union.
"They've got great depth, they move the puck, they've got great team speed, they get all of their players involved offensively," Minnesota Duluth coach Scott Sandelin said of the Eagles. "And give credit to their D. They've got some big boys with some good sticks. You can't make mistakes because good teams find a way to put those in. I'm very impressed with their team, which we knew going in. You don't win 30 games and then be on a streak they're on by being not very good."
Actually it's now 31 wins, as BC improved to 31-10-1 on the season. Even more impressive is the current 17-game winning streak that dates back two months. The Eagles last lost back on Jan. 21 at Maine.
The difference during that run has been goaltender Parker Milner. The junior was a pedestrian 10-5 after a win over Michigan Tech in the consolation game of the Great Lakes Invitational on Dec. 30. Despite the win, Milner would sit the next six games while coach Jerry York tried to figure out his netminder situation among Milner, freshman Brian Billett and senior Chris Venti.
Milner, based on his work in practice, was given another chance after BC scuffled its way through a 1-3-1 stretch in early January, and 17 games later he is 27-5 and was named the Most Outstanding Player of the Northeast Regional after making 33 saves against UMD for a weekend total of 53 saves over his two shutouts.
"Parker has been playing unbelievable," BC captain Tommy Cross said. "There's so few second chances, and you know he's making some unbelievable saves. So he's making the routine saves and then making a couple saves a game that he has no business making, and they're unbelievable plays."
Joining Milner on the all-tournament team were UMD forwards Jack Connolly and Jake Hendrickson; BC forward Chris Kreider; and BC defensemen Cross and Wey.
Winning championships can be all about goaltending, and Milner's emergence has given a team that rolls four lines and is tough to play against the missing ingredient that could spell the difference during college hockey's final weekend of play.
"They've got a great team top to bottom," UMD captain Connolly said. "They play well positionally. They had good sticks and some bigger D men that were kind of tough to get around. I felt like we didn't play bad, I felt like we had chances. Milner stood on his head a little bit and made some big stops."
Minnesota, which has one more national title (5) than BC, will be making its 20th Frozen Four appearance and first since 2005. The Gophers' last title came in 2003 (over New Hampshire).
Boston College's last title was two years ago in Detroit (over Wisconsin), and the Eagles would appear to be the prohibitive favorite heading into Tampa.
"They're a great program, they've got great tradition, they've won national championships," Sandelin said. "Sometimes when you build that it's a culture. You can name certain programs like North Dakota and Michigan that have been there a lot.
"That's why last year was great for us because it was a small school that hadn't done it and it gave hope. And now you look at two schools that are in the Frozen Four for the first time in Union and Ferris State, so it can be done."
Getting there is one thing. Winning it all is another. No doubt that all four clubs headed to Florida have their eyes on the ultimate prize with the idea that the "next one's ours, boys."
David Albright covers college sports for ESPN.com and can be reached at email@example.com.