BOSTON -- Hard to believe that these two teams can keep exceeding expectations, year after year, decade after decade. In a Beanpot tilt that lived up to its advanced billing, the Boston College Eagles and Boston University Terriers locked in another epic that wasn't decided until overtime.
With the Eagles on the power play, BC's Tommy Cross took a pass from defensive partner Brian Dumoulin, slid toward the middle of the ice, and sent a snap shot from the point that sailed past at least three players and behind BU's Kieran Millan at 3:17 for a 3-2 BC win.
The victory puts the Eagles (20-6-0) into the Beanpot finals for the 31st time, where they have a date with Northeastern next Monday.
"It feels awesome," Cross said of his winning strike. "Obviously, it's a great feeling to win the game. So much went into that goal. The faceoff win, the screen. The goal was just the cherry on the top."
The adage in hockey is that teams reflect their coaches. But the squads that faced off in the first-round nightcap of the 59th Beanpot, before a crowd of 17,565 at TD Garden, were carbon copies of their mascots. The high-flying Eagles, ranked No. 1 in the country, were every bit the majestic birds of prey, swooping down the wings and outshooting BU 27-19 through two periods.
The Eagles struck first in the opening period, when Philip Samuelsson's shot from the left boards deflected off the stick of BU defender David Warsofsky and over the left shoulder of goaltender Keiran Millan at 14:37.
"The most disappointing part of that game is that all three goals, every one of them, hit one of our guys and went into the net," BU's Jack Parker said. "If Keiran sees them, he stops them."
However, the pugnacious Terriers (13-8-7) fought fearlessly, scrapping and battling for every loose puck, and overcoming an early deficit to take the lead. Only 38 seconds after Samuelsson's goal, the Terriers, displaying trademark tenacity, knotted the score. Sophomore winger Wade Megan took a nifty behind-the-back feed from Garrett Noonan and sizzled a shot that beat BC goaltender John Muse blocker side.
"I like the way our team has grown up right in front of me," Parker said. "They showed that tonight."
BU's Corey Trivino gave the Terriers a 2-1 lead at 2:17 of the second period, when he collected the puck out of the feet of BC's Dumoulin and drilled a shot between the legs of Muse.
"They [BC] bent, but they didn't break," Parker said. "That's the best team in the nation, and we played head to head with them."
The Eagles thought they'd tied the game at 17:53, when Pat Mullane, slashing down the right wing, ripped a shot that Millan stopped but dropped. Jimmy Hayes, crashing the net, appeared to have pushed the puck over the goal line. The on-ice officials, however, ruled Millan kept it out. Video replay wasn't conclusive, and the on-ice call was upheld.
At 4:56 of the third, Hayes left no doubt, taking a quick feed from Mullane and snapping a shot past Millan's glove to knot the game at 2-all.
Muse came up huge for the Eagles in the last five minutes, when Hayes and Samuelsson took back-to-back cross-checking penalties. Over the course of the four-minute power play, Muse had several big stops, including point-blank bids by Ryan Ruikka, Charlie Coyle and Matt Nieto.
"This was a disappointing loss because the opportunities were there," Parker said.
Millan, not to be outdone, stoned Samuelsson on a clean breakaway with less than a minute left after the defenseman jumped out of the penalty box. BC had one last gasp as the clock ran out, but Millan stole the potential winner from Dumoulin with a sprawling right pad save just after the horn sounded, setting the stage for overtime.
"You had everything in that game -- lead changes, breakaways," BC associate head coach Mike Cavanaugh said. "But what we told our team was, you don't get second chances in the Beanpot."
And in the end, it was a battered Eagle who scored the biggest goal of the opening round. The gifted Cross, a Boston Bruins draft pick and junior alternate captain, has suffered multiple injuries to both knees and missed several games earlier this season after getting banged up in late October against Merrimack.
"I'm just so happy for him," BC assistant coach Greg Brown said. "He's battled through so much adversity. Every time he's gotten near the top of his game, something happens. But he's dedicated, and he treats every day as a chance to get better. That's infectious."
Muse, who has his own share of injuries, said Cross worked tirelessly to rehab his ravaged knees.
"It couldn't have happened to a better kid," the BC goaltender said. "He worked so hard to get back on the ice. He's a great leader for us, and it's great to see him get a goal like that."