National No. 4 versus No. 6 /7? You’d figure tight hockey would be on tap.
That’s just what happened Sunday afternoon when fourth-ranked Boston College played host to Hockey East’s other top-10 club – Merrimack. The squad’s played to a 2-2 tie thanks to a late, regulation tally from Connor Toomey and a scoreless extra frame.
The game finished without an overtime tally, although the Warriors did net a puck with seconds to spare. MC thought it had the game one after Kyle Singleton slapped in the rebound of a shot tipped by Rhett Bly with a high stick. Officials immediately waived off the goal, then went to the video for confirmation on the ruling.
As close as the conclusion was, the ice was at times tilted one way or another.
The Eagles’ superior offensive talents were on display from the get-go. BC used its speed and skill to create chances with scissoring entries, drop passes, and cycles. BC’s top line of Chris Kreider, Bill Arnold, and Paul Carey created chances from shift No. 1, when the unit set up blue-liner Patrick Wey with a Grade-A chance from inside the right faceoff dot.
But BC was held scoreless in the first. Credit goes to the MC defense, which covered the slot well and limited BC to just two Grade-A looks in the first, despite a possessional advantage. Goaltender Joe Cannata’s play warrants recognition, as well, as the keeper turned away seven BC shots, with some more worrisome than others.
The goose eggs vanished fast in the second. Paul Carey scored 47 seconds into the frame, jolting a Conte crowd still settling into its seats with a breakaway tally.
“If anybody can figure out a defense to that, please, tell me,” MC coach Mark Dennehy said when asked about Carey’s skill. “We’ll use it.”
It was the start of an offensive frenzy for BC, although the opportunities came easier than the goals. BC would take a 2-1 lead into the second intermission, with Steven Whitney netting the other tally – a short-handed finish assisted by Barry Almeida.
Filling the space before and after the two goals was an onslaught of minacious looks. The Eagles hit two pipes from point blank, and tested Cannata with seven Grade-A looks. BC fired 22 shots in the period, landing 12.
Cannata was mostly up to the task. Spare the two goals, he turned away most of BC’s looks with the poise and positioning of a veteran pipe-filler. When he needed to go beyond that, he did, like when he denied BC rookie Johnny Gaudreau at point blank with a cross-crease dive.
“We had great offensive chances,” BC coach Jerry York said. “I couldn’t believe it was just a two goal output for us. The goalie has a stake in that. I thought he played well.”
Merrimack’s one second-period tally was the result of a good play and a better bounce. The good play was made by Ryan Flanigan, who held off a BC defender while chasing a dumped puck into the corner. The better bounce came when Flanigan tried centering the puck, as it skipped off the BC defender and floated right to Connor Toomey’s stick at the far post. BC goalie Brian Billett didn’t have a chance.
The holes BC pried open in the second vanished with the start of the third. The Warriors locked down in the defensive zone, holding the Eagles to a single shot on goal in the entire third period.
Merrimack didn’t create a ton of chances, managing just six shots on goal and failing on four third-period power plays. But the Warriors did knot the score on Toomey’s late tip-in, sending the contest to overtime.
The team’s exchanged a few chances in the overtime. Paul Carey had a late look from atop Cannata’s doorstep, and it momentarily looked like Singleton had netted the winner on his overruled goal.
But neither team scored, setting up an intriguing home-and-home between Hockey East’s most lauded squads on Feb. 17 and 18.
“I thought we played well overall, both teams,” Dennehy said. “If we would’ve come away without a point, it wouldn’t have been justice. I guess justice, in Merrimack’s eyes, was served.”