This sentence would have been unthinkable five years ago: Boston College hockey showed up at TD Garden for a big game, and under the bright lights played almost inarguably their worst game of the season. They looked barely recognizable compared to the BC team that rolled in to the Garden in February, locking down two good offenses in Harvard and BU en route to the Beanpot title. They looked lost, and only a heroic effort by the best goalie in the country kept BC from getting humiliated by a hungry Northeastern team.
It was honestly hard to believe what we were watching - not because of any BC postseason mystique, which has certainly all but evaporated at this point - but because of simply how poor BC looked defensively. Was that really Ian McCoshen, who is likely to be making big money playing in the NHL next year, getting undressed twice and turning the puck over repeatedly? Was that really Casey Fitzgerald heaving a puck off of his teammate's backside to create an odd man rush the other way for Northeastern? Was that really the same team that defended the house well enough to allow Thatcher Demko to set the BC single season shutout record?
The odd thing is that once BC got in to the attacking zone, they actually looked pretty good. And as Northeastern started packing it in and protecting the house in the final six minutes, rather than pushing BC's out of sorts defense, you almost felt like the Eagles were going to score and tie it, despite the fact that they had 12 shots halfway through the third period. Miles Wood and Alex Tuch looked electric going forward for BC, and Colin White also had himself a nice game - so long as BC was in the offensive zone. In the defensive end and in the neutral zone, BC was a disaster. Getting through the neutral zone was a chore for BC even against a Northeastern team that left a lot more space than Vermont did last week.
Remarkably, this year's senior class will be the first in the entire Jerry York era at BC that graduates without winning a Hockey East championship. In 2013, BC faded after the Beanpot, and despite vastly outplaying BU at the Garden they blew a lead and got knocked out by their rivals. In 2014 and 2015, BC frustratingly went out in the quarterfinals at home, in galling fashion - first to Notre Dame, which stung in and of itself, and then to a Vermont team that people expected the Eagles to defeat easily.
Rather than elevate their game as the calendar turns to March, BC seems to have a trend in recent years of finding their stride in the middle of the season but fading away. Even last year - a team that was obviously not very deep or talented by BC standards - they looked like contenders in late January, beating BU and Providence in back to back weeks. But their run fell apart starting with a loss at the Beanpot, and BC sputtered afterward.
So what's going on? Well, part of it can just be attributed to the way the cookie crumbles. BC was pretty lucky to go through that entire run from 2008-2012 where it seemed like every time they needed a big goal in a big spot, they got it. There's a lot of puck luck involved in that sort of run, and puck luck tends to balance out.
But it's alarming to see how out of sorts this very talented group of BC players has looked as the season enters the home stretch. Even the coaches seem out of sorts. Jerry York has shuffled and re-jiggered the lines every game over the last few weeks, and has made in-game moves as well (most notably, reuniting Matt Gaudreau with Colin White and Ryan Fitzgerald last night after JD Dudek's lightning in a bottle seemed to fade a bit early on). They feel like panic moves from a team not playing with confidence.
We certainly shouldn't write this team's obituary yet; two years ago, BC crashed out in the quarterfinals of the Hockey East tournament, yet rebounded to beat an unbelievably good Lowell team and score 4 goals on Connor Hellebuyck in the regional final to punch their ticket to the Frozen Four. And last year, Providence looked abysmal and was lucky to even make the tournament, before they got hot and won four. BC certainly has it in them to do that.
But it's hard to be feeling good right now. All our fears about the defense at the start of the year seemed to be coming true before our eyes as BC committed turnover after turnover last night, like a bad re-run of the New Brunswick exhibition back in October but with much higher stakes. And unfortunately, at this point, it's hard to stick to the old adage that when the chips are down, they will find a way to pull it out. Over the last four years, that hasn't been the case at all.
Winning titles is really hard - you need a lot of luck, and to beat a lot of good teams in a sport with a ton of parity. But in order for this season to not go down as a bit of a disappointment, BC is going to need to find it within them to play their best hockey next weekend and earn a trip to the Frozen Four. They certainly have the ability to do it, but not if they play like they did the last two weeks.