The Boston College men’s hockey team suffered what was probably their worst loss of the season on Wednesday night to bring their Hockey East Tournament run to a premature end. After a close win over New Hampshire in the quarterfinals, the Eagles lost to UMass Lowell 6-5 in overtime after blowing a 4-1 lead with under 10 minutes to play in the third period. It was a bad loss for BC, but their season is (hopefully) far from over, as they’ll look to start their run in the NCAA Tournament when they take on Notre Dame this weekend. Before we get to that, however, let’s take one last look back on the Hockey East Tournament and what the heck happened in their semifinals game.
A ROUGH OUTING FOR SPENCER KNIGHT
It’s hard to start anywhere else when talking about Wednesday’s game: Spencer Knight was bad against Lowell, plain and simple. Yes BC could have played a better third period when they were up three goals, but Knight let in a few goals that he normally handles with ease. You could almost sense the trouble from the first goal he let in - a shot from just inside the blue line that Knight barely even flinched at. There were at least two more goals that Knight probably would have wanted another shot at as well, including the goal that tied things up at 4-4 before the two teams ended up trading goals late before overtime.
If you listened to the NESN broadcast, you know the stats. The four goals that Knight let up in the third period were more than any single game total for the entire season and this was the first time a team had scored more than four goals against BC since October 2019. There’s no other way to say it, Knight was bad on Wednesday night.
So how concerned should we be about his play headed into the NCAA Tournament? I’d say not at all. For my money, Knight has been the best player on this team all season, and he’s allowed to have a down game every now and again. He’s a great goalie and he plays like that the vast majority of the time, and I expect him to be able to shrug this off and bounce back right away.
FIRST LINE LOOKS DOMINANT...
For the second time in three meetings this season, UMass Lowell had absolutely no answer for BC’s top line of Mike Hardman, Alex Newhook, and Matt Boldy. The trio was dominant, having a hand in all five of BC’s goals and being the only forwards to finish with a plus rating on the night. Hardman had a goal and an assist, while Boldy had four assists and Newhook had a five point night of his own, scoring twice and assisting on the three other tallies.
In a game that felt like it ended in the most frustrating way imaginable, BC’s top line being this dominant feels like a really good sign. They looked dangerous every time they were on the ice and it really seems like they’re starting to get back to where they were at the end of last season. Alex Newhook in particular is on a roll as of late. He’s on a six game point streak and has already climbed into a tie for fifth on the team in goals, with seven in just 11 games so far.
...BUT THE BOTTOM NINE STRUGGLE
On the other hand, man did the other three lines not look great against Lowell. Marc McLaughlin scored a late power play goal for the Eagles, but outside of that, these lines didn’t generate a whole lot of offense, and struggled at keeping the puck out of their net as well.
BC ended up with 39 shots on net, but only 20 of those came in regulation, and a big part of that was because the bottom three lines couldn’t generate any kind of sustained pressure. Colby Ambrosio ended up with a few breakaways that he couldn’t quite finish, but outside of that, it was few and far between in terms of scoring chances. Of the nine forwards that make up the bottom three lines, none had a positive plus/minus and six ended up in the negative. That’s not a winning formula for any team that wants to contend
Again, I kind of end up in the same spot here as I do with Spencer Knight, where I trust most of these players to bounce back and have a better showing in the NCAA Tournament. It’s just a tough pill to swallow when your top line contributes on five goals in a losing effort.
BLOWN LEADS A WORRYING TREND
BC has held a multi-goal lead in each of their last four games, but none of them would be what you consider comfortable finishes. Against UMass Amherst a few weeks ago, a 2-0 lead late in the second period became a 3-2 overtime loss. The Eagles jumped out to another 2-0 lead against Northeastern in their next game just to see the Huskies tie things up within 10 minutes of play (though BC did go on to win that game 4-2). Even against New Hampshire in the quarterfinals matchup, BC’s early 3-0 lead nearly evaporated in the second period, and they had to hang on for a stressful 3-2 win. And of course, Wednesday’s game took this trend to the next level.
BC has played a lot of close games this season, and they’ve done quite well in them overall, but they’ve also missed some chances to put their opponents away and cut down on some of those stressful end of game situations. Their game against Lowell felt like the perfect example of this. An early third period goal would have made the score 5-1 and ended things early, but the Eagles didn’t create much in terms of scoring chances (they had just three shots on net in the third before Lowell made it 4-2). Instead, they let Lowell hang around, get some momentum with their second goal, and then the wheels came off.
It goes without saying that if this happens again, BC’s NCAA Tournament run could be cut awfully short. A team with this much talented should be able to hold on to more of these leads, and a 4-1 advantage with 10 minutes left in regulation should never end up in overtime. Hopefully they’re able to shake this one off and keep whatever leads they build up in the coming weeks.