BOSTON — It was a memorable night for Boston College freshman left wing Johnny Gaudreau.
Gaudreau scored early first-period goals 2:07 apart and set up a crucial goal by Pat Mullane with 1:21 left in the second period to lead Boston College to its third straight Hockey East Tournament championship and 11th overall by virtue of a 4-1 victory over the University of Maine Black Bears at the TD Garden Saturday night.
Boston College, the nation’s top-ranked team, stretched its winning streak to 15 games since being swept by Maine in Orono on Jan 20-21.
Top-seeded Boston College is now 29-10-1 while Maine fell to 23-13-3.
It was the seventh time the two teams have met in the Hockey title game and BC has won five including a 7-6 overtime win two years ago.
Brian Flynn scored for Maine at the 7:37 mark of the second period to cut the lead in half.
But Mullane re-established the two-goal cushion and Barry Almeida added an empty-net goal with 1:01 left.
Boston College outshot Maine 43-42 and both goalies, BC’s Parker Milner and Maine’s Dan Sullivan, turned in superb performances.
“We came out hard the first couple of shifts but then we sat back and they were able to make some nice plays (leading to Gaudreau’s goals),” said Maine senior center and co-captain Brian Flynn, who had a great chance on the first shift of the game only to have his wrist shot from the left circle glance off Milner’s right shoulder.
“We didn’t come out the way we wanted to but, over the final 40 minutes, we gave it our all,” said Maine junior right wing Joey Diamond. “They’re a great team. They deserved to win.”
Both teams advanced to the NCAA Northeast Regional in Worcester, Mass., Saturday with No. 1 BC playing Air Force at 4 p.m., followed by No. 3 Maine vs. No. 2 Minnesota-Duluth at 7:30 p.m..
Maine was without Hockey East Player of the Year and Hobey Baker Award finalist Spencer Abbott, who suffered a head injury in Maine’s 5-3 semifinal win over Boston University Friday night.
“He’s an unbelievable player but we knew it was still going to be a battle (and it was),” said Almeida. “They’re a great team and they have other weapons.”
BC coach Jerry York said Abbott is one the best players in the country and losing him certainly hurt Maine.
“But I thought they responded very well. They played well,” said York. “They had a couple of surges but Parker Milner made some incredible saves. And I thought we played extremely well. It’s our best game in a few weeks.”
Maine coach Tim Whitehead thought his team was tentative for a period of time after the first few shifts and that’s when Gaudreau capitalized.
“But a lot of guys rose up because we didn’t have Spencer and they competed hard,” said Whitehead. “They responded well. They played a strong game over the final two periods.
“It’s hard to come back on a team like BC when you’re down 2-0. We had some good chances to tie but we couldn’t convert. They defend really well. They forced us to shoot outside and boxed out in front. We didn’t do as good a job (establishing traffic) in front of the net as we did against (BU goalie Kieran) Millan on Friday.”
Maine matched BC’s work ethic and won a lot of battles for the puck over the final two periods. But the Bears were just a tad off their game as passes weren’t as crisp as usual and they didn’t generate as many second chances. They also missed a few glittering chances at an exposed net by shooting wide.
Gaudreau opened the scoring 5:24 into the game thanks to a fortuitous bounce and extended the lead with a power-play goal.
On his first goal, Patch Alber’s shot from the point deflected off Nick Pryor’s stick over to him and he quickly cut left to right across the low slot and slipped the puck past Sullivan.
His second goal and 19th of the season was off another rebound.
Chris Kreider took a shot from the midpoint and the Eagles outnumbered Maine in front of the net which created a loose puck.
Gaudreau found the puck, sliced left to right just beyond the crease and rolled a backhander past Sullivan.
“Those were two nice shots and I just had to tap in the rebounds,” said Gaudreau, who had intended to go to Northeastern but was allowed to get out of his commitment when the NU coaching staff was replaced.
So he wound up at BC.
His goals energized the Eagles and they carried the play the rest of the period only to have Sullivan make several key saves to keep the Black Bears within striking distance.
BC outshot Maine 20-11 in the first period.
Flynn made it 2-1 as he snapped a six-game goal-less drought.
Milner tried to put the puck into the corner but Diamond intercepted it and fed it to Flynn, who kicked it over to his stick and beat Milner with a 15-foot backhander over Milner’s blocker.
Maine received a boost from the goal and began generating some promising opportunities.
But Mullane’s goal was pivotal.
“We knew after Flynn’s goal, we had to get the next one,” said Almeida.
Paul Carey carried the puck down the right wing and fired the puck toward the net from the right wing.
The puck hit the side of the net and Gaudreau pounced on the loose puck and carried it behind the net before emerging at the far post and putting a pinpoint pass on the stick of an unattended Mullane, who one-timed it past the helpless Sullivan.
“That was a great play by Johnny,” said BC captain and defenseman Tommy Cross.
Maine’s power play struggled without Abbott although the Black Bears did create a few chances including a glorious opportunity midway through the third period.
Will O’Neill took a wrist shot from the left point that Mark Anthoine re-directed across to the far post.
But Milner made a terrific reaction save with his left pad.
Maine went 0-for-5 on the power play after going 4-6 against BU.
Despite surrendering the late second-period goal, the Black Bears didn’t deflate and outshot BC 17-9 in the third period only to be thwarted by Milner and his teammates, who have allowed more than two goals just once in their 15-game winning streak.
Gaudreau was chosen the tournament’s Most Valuable Player and to the all-tourney team.
He was joined by teammates Brian Dumoulin and Milner; Maine’s Diamond and O’Neill and BU’s Alex Chiasson.