If you were playing "hockey frustration bingo" this weekend, it would not have taken long to fill out your card. Goals allowed in the first minute of the period. Goals allowed in the last minute of the period. Hit posts. Soft goals allowed. Having a goal disallowed. It was about as aggravating as it gets.
The end result was Notre Dame coming in to BC and pouring rain all over the BC optimism parade, shocking the Eagles to the tune of 3 wins in 4 games at Conte Forum. It was BC's first loss at this stage in the Hockey East tournament since falling to BU in three games at Conte in 2004. The good news? That BC team went on to make the Frozen Four.
The Irish continue to have BC's number in the head-to-head series, with Jeff Jackson somehow seeming to have the magic elixir to shut down even Jerry York's best teams.
Let's take a look back at what went wrong this weekend:
Defensive mistakes and breakdowns
I have two enduring images from this series. One is the ill-fated play in the final minutes of the game when Scott Savage tried to step up and fire a shot at the blue line while a Notre Dame player was all over him; the Irish stripped the puck, came down the other way in a 2-on-1, and scored the goal that broke BC's back, putting ND up 4-2.
The other is from game one - Michael Matheson rushing the puck into the zone, skating around three Notre Dame players and taking the puck in behind the net even though his teammates weren't in a position to cover for him. The puck got turned over, Notre Dame quickly turned it up ice, and once again had an easy break in on Demko courtesy of the guy Matheson should have been covering.
I point out those two examples not to necessarily single out those two players, because the whole defensive corps had its issues and made its share of mistakes. But those two examples were ones that led to particularly backbreaking goals.
Soft goals allowed
BC's great teams during the John Muse era always took a lot of chances and a lot of risks at the blue line, even though it led to a dangerous number of odd-man rushes and breakouts the other way. They did that because they knew Muse would be there to slam the door, so they could take the risk of opening up the game.
Thatcher Demko has been absolutely outstanding since winning the starting job in January, but he had a horrible weekend this time out. There's no two ways about it. And as a result, the Eagles were badly punished for their turnovers and mistakes, as well as moments of over-aggressiveness.
Obviously, the worst of the goals Demko allowed was Notre Dame's first yesterday, a slow roller that somehow managed to get through him. A number of the goals in Game 1 weren't great to give up, either. At this point, Demko is the guy and BC probably won't even begin to entertain the idea of going with BIllett in NCAA's, nor should they. But Demko will need to return to form if BC's run-and-gun style is going to find success in the national tournament.
Notre Dame imposing its style on the game
This was less of an issue in this series than it was in the regular season finale, when from the word go, Notre Dame was content to have the game limited to a very small number of chances and keep things pretty well clogged up. BC did a much better job this weekend of taking better approaches through the neutral zone to beat the trap. In games two and three, they managed to generate a good amount of offensive zone pressure and many more scoring chances than they did either in game one or in the regular season finale.
But Notre Dame was still largely able to run its system without being much disrupted. BC helped with some ill-advised drop passes and blind passes that were easy for Notre Dame to break up and clear out. The Eagles also helped by not bringing the same hitting game in game three that worked well in game two. Ultimately, there was no need for ND to break out of its structure and take chances because BC gave them the chances they needed by making mistakes.
Part of Notre Dame being able to impose its game had to do with the way game three was officiated. As soon as ND made it through the entire first period without being called for a single hook, hold, or interference, despite the fact that they were happening on almost every shift, I knew that it could be potential trouble for BC. "Letting them play" benefits the Irish and the way they play the game. If there ever were a day where we could have used the whistle-happy Benedetto it was yesterday.
The most tell-tale sign of ND having its stamp on the game was the intense line-matching BC was doing in the third period. Before nearly every faceoff in the final frame, York would make a late line change to react to the line ND sent over the boards. In all of my years of attending BC games I'd never seen BC do more late line-matching than in this one. To me, that means ND was setting the tone, rather than the Eagles simply playing Boston College hockey.
The "shut down line" did not
The net result of this line matching was that BC's line of Sit, Smith, and Linell had the duty of being the "shut down line" when Notre Dame's first line of Rust, Tynan, and Herr was on the ice. And how did that work out? Not so well. Sit was -7 on the weekend. Linell and Smith were each -4. That's pretty mind-bogglingly bad on a BC team where everyone is a plus player for the season. The ND top line was all over the scoresheet. This was the weekend's key matchup.
If we are going to go into monday morning QB mode, it's worth wondering if Linell's late insertion into this line messed with its chemistry and made it more of a defensive liability than BC could afford in using it as a shut down line against such an effective top unit. We'll see if it gets tweaked at all going into NCAA's.
BC's best defensive center, in my opinion, is Pat Brown - but he's been tasked with much more of an offensive role this year, paired with high-flying freshmen Cangelosi and Fitzgerald. That said, that line wasn't very great in terms of +/- this weekend either (-2, -2, and -3, respectively).
Whether we like to admit it or not breaks have a lot to do with the outcome of any close hockey game. Now don't get me wrong - BC put themselves in a position of bad breaks being able to doom them when they came out and played their worst game of the season on Friday. So this isn't an excuse, it's just part of the story.
In an early first period shift, Quinn Smith rung a post that could have given BC a quick 1-0 lead - just as he missed stuffing home a centering feed on Friday night that could have given BC an early lead as well. A couple inches the other way on either of those and things could have looked a lot different. And Smith wasn't the only Eagle to hit the post this weekend, either.
The worst break of all was the disallowed goal in the second period yesterday, which after watching several times, I contend was a truly horrendous call, certainly in the pantheon of bad ones we've seen from Hockey East officials (and there have been quite a few). The discussion over whether or not Brown deflected it in with his stick after deflecting it with his body are moot because that wasn't what the goal was disallowed for - it was disallowed because of the penalty call on Brown for "interference" which supposedly happened before the puck went into the net.
Upon review, it would have been difficult to make a goal or no-goal call either way based on the video, and I would have to imagine that since the call on the ice was a goal, it would have stood up. But it never got to that point because there was no review due to the penalty - a very weak call against Brown, more galling after a series of missed penalty calls and "letting them play" to that point.
BC probably would have been just fine despite having the goal taken off the board if they didn't once again fall asleep in the last minute of a period to allow ND to score right before the second intermission, but that's what happened, and the rest is history.
As I mentioned in the intro, the last BC team to get bounced at home in the HEA quarters went on to go to the Frozen Four. Last year, neither Yale nor Quinnipiac made the ECAC finals and both made it to the national championship game. Duluth won a national title in 2011 despite not winning their conference - as did Michigan State in '07 (ugh), Wisconsin in '06 (ugh), Denver in '04, and Minnesota in '02.
This was a horrendous matchup for BC, and it's clear that a well-run trap along with opportunistic and skilled offense can beat BC. But there probably isn't a single team in the country that can play this system as effectively and as well as Notre Dame. So that's a plus. The season re-sets in two weeks; let's see what happens.