In (another) down year for Hockey East, the question for BC was where its challenges were going to come from. Harvard graduated several talented players (and won't play the Eagles until the 2nd half of the season), and BU lost one of the best women's hockey players of our generation in Marie-Philip Poulin to graduation (finally).
On paper, Northeastern appeared to be the team that would rise to the occasion. A hot start lifted them to 5th/5th/4th in the various polls, and 5th in the Pairwise. With the top 3 in a league of their own, the Huskies appeared to be toward the top of that second tier.
In a game that featured Olympic-level talent and a thrilling third period, the Eagles passed their early test, battling for a 4-2 win against its toughest opponent of the still-young season.
Northeastern Goal #1 (PPG): 3:21 of the 1st period
Kendall Coyne (Denisa Křížová, Heather Mottau)
NU 1, BC 0
That Olympic-level talent was in both locker rooms. With Kendall Coyne, Alex Carpenter, and Haley Skarupa all on the ice at the same time, fans of the game were treated to some extraordinarily high-level gameplay for long stretches. The first period in particular saw BC and NU intentionally matching up lines more than you ever see in the sport.
But after an early BC penalty, it was Northeastern and Kendall Coyne who got on the board first. Denisa Křížová, whose name has more dots and dashes than a book of morse code, took the shot into traffic. It was Coyne (of course it was Coyne) who got her stick on the puck to deflect it past Katie Burt, and it was game on.
Boston College Goal #1: 4:29 of the 1st period
Tori Sullivan (Dana Trivigno, Kristyn Capizzano)
BC 1, NU 1
Just over a minute later, BC got the response. The minute following NU's power play goal, while the Olympians were on the bench for a breather, featured the biggest flurry for either team of the night. BC crashed the net repeatedly and created a trio of scrums in front of Bugalski, finally cashing in to tie the game.
The 1-1 score would remain through the end of the first and second periods as both teams seemed to focus more on each other than they did on their own game. The second period in particular was tentative, with BC concerned more with keeping Kendall Coyne in check than in jumping forward to create plays.
Things opened up in the third period.
Boston College Goal #2: 10:37 of the 3rd period
Meghan Grieves (Tori Sullivan, Kali Flanagan)
BC 2, NU 1
Midway through the third period, it was BC's depth that broke the deadlock. Meghan Grieves took a shot and was probably looking to draw a rebound, but she beat Bugalski on the shot to give BC the lead.
But don't get too excited, kids.
Northeastern Goal #2: 10:54 of the 3rd period
Hayley Scamurra (Denisa Křížová, Lauren Kelly)
BC 2, NU 2
[No video available]
The Huskies tied the game back up at 2 so quickly that the BC video feed was still showing the highlight from Grieves' goal and never showed the replay. Seeing as how I have no idea what happened (and BC didn't put the NU goals in the highlight video -- boooo), let's let BCEagles.com tell us what happened:
With the Eagles deep in the Huskies' zone, Lauren Kelly fed Křížová up the boards. She then played Hayley Scamurra into open ice and the center skated in and her shot from the circle beat Katie Burt to re-level the score.
With the game back knotted at 2, BC's lower lines went right back to work.
Boston College Goal #3 (GWG): 12:43 of the 3rd period
Kaliya Johnson (Andie Anastos, Lexi Bender)
BC 3, NU 2
Defensive defenseman Kaliya Johnson gets her first goal of the year on this quick slapshot. Like Grieves it looks like its primary objective isn't to go in on its own but perhaps to earn the rebound, but Johnson's shot is low and through the legs of the Northeastern defenseman and she has a tough time judging the puck. It might even take a deflection off a Husky.
But the goal illustrated just what makes BC so tough to beat this year. Northeastern has an elite top line -- genuinely one of the best in the country. But the Eagles have a top line that can match up with anybody, while still having two other scoring lines and a defensive corps that can put the puck into the net on their own.
Boston College Goal #4 (ENG): 19:59.7 of the 3rd period
Tori Sullivan (Andie Anastos)
BC 4, NU 2 -- FINAL
Any hopes the Huskies had of getting late pressure with the goalie pulled were pretty much dashed when Northeastern was forced to take a tripping penalty against Alex Carpenter with 2:05 to go.
BC kept the puck in the NU end for just about the full two minutes until the very end, when the Huskies were finally able to pull the goalie only to see BC regain possession seconds later and get the empty net goal just before time expired.
Just like their overtime win against BU last week, this was an important game for BC. BC didn't have many opportunities last season to learn how to grind out a win and it hurt them at the end of the season.
The game did pose some interesting questions that are yet unanswered. Head Coach Katie Crowley switched up the lines, putting last year's "superline" of Skarupa-Carpenter-Kent back together in what appeared to be an all-out effort to contain Kendall Coyne.
That strategy has worked pretty well for BC the last couple years. Kendall Coyne was kept off the scoresheet entirely in three of the four matchups between these two teams last year, all four of which featured the "superline" matching up against Coyne. Even in last night's game, Coyne's only damage was a deflection on a power play, not the type of play she usually creates using her world-class speed.
The flip side, though, is the loss of production from your top players. Carpenter and Skarupa were held to a combined zero points. Last season BC scored 25 goals on the Huskies, and Carpenter and Skarupa combined to score just four of them.
Coach Crowley's postgame quotes make it sound like the first line is here to stay, at least through the next meeting with Northeastern...
We'll let our lines gel a little bit. Two of them got switched around a little bit so we'll see how they get back to knowing each other again.
...so it will be interesting to see how that affects the team's scoring.
BC is off for the rest of the weekend but will be back at it Wednesday afternoon against Providence, before heading downtown to face the Huskies in Game #2 of the season series next Saturday.