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On an evening when everything that happened between Boston College and Maine seemed improbable, it was only fitting that the game’s hero was equally as improbable.
Eagles senior Matt Lombardi, who entered Saturday’s Hockey East Championship game with three goals on the season, scored the game-winning goal at 5:25 of overtime to complete his first career hat trick as BC defeated the Black Bears, 7-6, to capture its record ninth Lamoriello Trophy.
Lombardi, who scored his first career game-winning goal just a week ago against Massachusetts in the tournament’s quarterfinal round, moved out of the left corner in the offensive zone and made a hard cut to the net.
“We got the puck in [the zone] and Matty Price chipped it low,” said Lombardi of the championship-winning goal. “I just grabbed it and stuffed it quick on net. I think it just trickled in.”
“Sometimes the hero jumps out of obscurity to become the real difference maker,” BC coach Jerry York said of Lombardi. “I’m certainly excited because Matt has worked so hard for four years and to get rewarded like that is pretty special.”
The fact that the game even got to overtime was miraculous. BC (25-10-3) held a 6-4 lead with just over five minutes remaining, but a resilient Maine team battled back. Spencer Abbott scored off a faceoff with 5:01 remaining and Joey Diamond, who finished the weekend with three goals, buried an extra attacker goal over the shoulder of BC netminder John Muse (26 saves) with 27.3 seconds remaining.
That, though, was the story of the night for Maine (19-17-3), which never held the lead but continuously counter-punched when BC scored. Three times Maine was able to score a goal within a minute of BC netting one.
“It’s tough to come out on the down side of it,” said Maine coach Tim Whitehead. “I’m just so proud of how our guys competed and the poise they showed under pressure down the stretch.”
Getting to overtime almost seemed fitting given the craziness of the game. The offensive output matched the all-time record for a Hockey East championship game. Not since 1986, when Boston University beat BC, 9-4, had two teams combined for 13 goals. That game also happens to be the last time a player recorded a hat trick in a final (Peter Marshall).
“The resiliency that Maine showed was impressive,” said York. “It was almost like a heavyweight fight. Both of us had to get off the canvas. But ultimately we were Johnny Ruiz. We got the championship.”
The title tilt began at a furious pace. BC outshot Maine, 16-8, but despite BC twice grabbing one-goal leads, the two clubs were tied through 20 minutes thanks to immediate responses by the Black Bears.
Carl Sneep opened the scoring at 11:14 on the power play, one-timing a shot from the point that snuck through a screen set by Chris Kreider.
Twenty-four seconds later, though, Maine responded. Hobey Baker Award finalist Gustav Nyquist tipped the rebound of a Tanner House shot that Muse couldn’t corral to knot the game at 1.
BC regained the lead at 15:19 when Maine’s Mark Nemec attempted to pull Lombardi’s shot from harm’s way but instead carried the puck into the net.
Again, though, Maine answered, this time 36 seconds later. Diamond, who had a highlight-reel goal to open the scoring for the Black Bears in Friday’s 5-2 semifinal win over Boston University, deflected Jeff Dimmen’s shot past Muse to even the game at 2.
The Eagles started the second period fast, scoring twice to open the game’s first two-goal lead. Joe Whitney gave the Eagles a 3-2 lead on the power play at 1:39 when his slap shot beat Maine netminder Dave Wilson (27 saves) through a Ben Smith screen.
Lombardi then caught Wilson out of position, diving forward to force a rebound shot on goal that Wilson pushed in as he tried to get back in position.
But just when it seemed the Eagles had things under control, a march to the penalty box allowed Maine back in the game. While BC killed a 90-second 5-on-3 advantage, House scored his 29th goal of the season, one-timing a Nyquist pass from behind the net through Muse’s legs at 15:04.
The Black Bears continued to press but couldn’t even things before the period’s end. Maine outshot the Eagles, 16-5, in the period and 14-1 after BC took a 4-2 lead at 5:35.
The two teams traded goals early in the third as BC’s Jimmy Hayes scored on a quick turnaround shot at 5:16 and the Black Bears responded with another power-play goal by David deKastrozza at 8:17.
But just when it seemed BC put the game away with 5:37 remaining when Barry Almeida buried a loose puck just past Wilson’s outstretched pad at the right post, Maine had yet another immediate response. Spencer Abbott’s wrister over Muse’s blocker 34 seconds later pulled the Black Bears to within one at 6-5.
That then led to Diamond’s dramatic extra-attacker goal with 27.3 seconds remaining to force overtime.
While Boston College is guaranteed a berth in the NCAA championship as the Hockey East tournament champion, the Black Bears’ season comes to an abrupt halt. Maine, which was picked preseason to finish eighth, knew going into the game that it needed to win to keep its season alive but came up just an ounce short.
“We really felt if we were able to get by BC, we’d have a good a shot as anybody to win a national championship,” said Whitehead. “It’s bittersweet. We have a lot of build on. But not everyone can advance.”