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Round One of this Hockey East heavyweight battle went to the guys wearing the blue trunks, but it was an even exchange, not a knockout.
In a terrific game featuring numerous momentum changes and a critical but lucky goal for each team, the No. 3 Maine Black Bears earned a big road victory in their first of two games at No. 4 Boston College this weekend, beating the Eagles 4-3 in front of 7,770 fans at the Conte Forum.
Maine (11-1-1, 5-0-0) entered the third period with a 3-1 lead, only to have BC (9-3-1, 6-2-0) tie it with two goals in under two minutes — the first a fluky one when Eagle Ryan Shannon sent the puck toward the net and had it ricochet off of a player, surprising Maine goalie Jimmy Howard.
But after Ben Eaves tied the game for the Eagles, the Black Bears showed that turnabout was fair play. Robert Liscak hit Colin Shields for a one-timer at the far post. The grade-A chance was denied, but before the crowd could even finish sighing with relief, Liscak threw the puck toward the net.
“It was just a lucky play,” Liscak said. “I passed it to Colin, and he had a good shot on it. I guess it hit a defenseman’s pad and went wide. It came to me in the corner, and I picked it up and saw the goalie out of position, so I just threw it in front of the net hoping that somebody’s going to hit it or it bounces off someone, and that’s exactly what happened. I think it was off their defenseman’s skate.”
In some ways, it was a fitting ending for an odd game. Maine came out of the first period with a 2-0 lead, but Boston College Coach Jerry York said, “I thought it was our best period of the season.”
“I thought that we played better after they tied it up, oddly enough,” Maine Coach Tim Whitehead said. “We played with a lot more spark after that.
“It was a weird game,” added Whitehead. “Our third goal was a lucky one; their second was the exact same — you kind of throw it from the corner and sometimes that happens. So it was kind of an even trade.
“They’re a hell of a team. We feel fortunate to come out of here with two points.”
York was wowed by the play of both teams. “I think two of the best teams in the country played tonight,” York said. “It was a good learning experience for us, and I’m sure for Maine too.”
“We had some good chances, but we just couldn’t bury them,” added York.
With the fourth line on the ice, Maine scored on its first chance of the game at 2:56. Left winger Cameron Lyall picked up the puck off the boards and drove toward the far post before slipping a backhand pass to Gray Shaneberger, who was parked on the other side of the net. Shaneberger had half the net to shoot at and slam-dunked it home for his first goal of the season and a 1-0 lead.
The Black Bears had to withstand pressure from the Eagles for the next 10 minutes. The new first line of Chris Collins to the left of the Eaves brothers looked good with several shot attempts.
Despite David Spina missing the game with a sinus infection, the second line of Ryan Shannon between Tony Voce and Ryan Murphy also proved threatening. Voce had good chances all night, all stopped by Howard or sent just wide. Also in the first, Maine stopped a fleeting five-on-three. Maine is now 10-for-10 in killing off five-on-three advantages this season.
After managing about one shot during the Eagles’ half-period feeding frenzy in their zone, Maine promptly made it 2-0 on its next opportunity at 13:20 — once again coming off a puck dug off the boards. This time it was off the right-wing boards, as Martin Kariya wheeled to fire a beautiful backhander to Lucas Lawson bursting into the faceoff circle. Lawson beat Kelleher cleanly with a low shot. Maine has now outscored the opposition by a 19-3 margin in the first period this season.
Howard had a terrific save at 6:30 of the second, when Eagle centerman Ned Havern broke in alone and tried to slip a backhander past the freshman glove side, only to have Howard make the pad save.
Just after a Black Bear power play elapsed at 9:15, Maine made it 3-0. Colin Shields’ initial shot from the left-wing faceoff circle rebounded and bounced off Robert Liscak’s ribcage before Greg Moore collected the puck and deposited the rebound in the net from 12 feet out.
Back in the Maine end, Howard made another gem at 9:15 when he split to make a glove snare a Voce slapper that was ticketed for the net.
The Eagles finally gave the home crowd something to cheer about at 17:16 of the second, when BC’s third line converted. Driving toward the net, A.J. Walker lunged to his knees to poke home a pass for his first goal of the season.
Just 15 seconds in the third, Maine had another scare when Voce found himself alone on the doorstep with the puck, but Howard gave him no opening.
On a power play at 6:03, Shannon got his lucky bounce goal. Less than two minutes later, the Eagles stunned Maine by tying it up when Ben Eaves got the puck at the top of the crease and beat Howard low on the glove side as the crowd erupted.
Whitehead promptly called a timeout and reminded his troops that they had been in these situations before. “We went through so much last year that we ‘re not fazed by a lot of these situations,” he said.
Indeed, the euphoria was short-lived, as Liscak played the part of Ricochet Rabbit .
It got interesting at 16:52, when Maine d-man Troy Barnes wisely hauled down Patrick Eaves to negate a scoring chance, albeit drawing a penalty. The Eagles kept the puck in the Maine zone through the power play but just couldn’t get that one chance.
“It was impressive from my standpoint that we were down three goals and then played very well from that point,” York said. “It’s easy to get discouraged, but we kept plugging and got it back to 3-3.”
Maine has now won seven straight games — its longest streak since winning nine straight from January 13 through February 19, 1999.
The teams face off again at the Conte Forum on Saturday night.