March 21, 2010 PRINT Bookmark and Share

BC-Maine Play One for the Ages

by Mike Machnik/CHN Senior Editor

BOSTON — Where do you want to start?

How about senior Matt Lombardi scoring his first career hat trick — including the game winner in overtime — to lead Boston College to its ninth Hockey East Championship, 7-6 over Maine?

Maybe you'd like to talk about Maine responding to not one, not two, but three BC goals on the night with a goal of its own less than a minute later?

Or the Black Bears erasing two two-goal deficits in the third period, tying the game 6-6 with goaltender Dave Wilson on the bench and 27 seconds to play?

And there was the superb Eagle penalty kill shutting down Maine's No. 1 in the nation power play with only a single shot in five minutes total in the first period, only to have Maine adjust and pepper BC goaltender John Muse with 12 in the second and score twice in the game.

Not to mention, BC going 60 minutes without trailing and having an incredible nine different leads in the game — the Eagles led 1-0, 2-1, 3-2, 4-2, 4-3, 5-3, 5-4, 6-4, and 6-5 in regulation — and yet having to find the will and the way to pick it up in an overtime session the Eagles couldn't have believed they were faced with.

This was one of those games they'll be talking about for years to come. It might have been the best championship game in the 26-year history of Hockey East.

It certainly wasn't the best played. There were mistakes, bad penalties, bad goals.

But it had almost everything you could think of, and a lot you couldn't have dreamed.

Especially if your name is Matt Lombardi. The BC senior entered the game with seven goals. Not seven this season. Seven in his career. In 140 games.

In game 141, Lombardi scored three timely Eagles' goals — the last one the best, converting a feed on a rush from linemate Matt Price on the doorstep 5:25 into overtime — for his first multigoal game since prep school.

"Sometimes the hero jumps out of obscurity to become the MVP," said BC coach Jerry York.

"Tonight was full of surprises."

No kidding.

Maine entered the game knowing it needed a win to extend its season. The Black Bears, suddenly back from the doldrums this season to become relevant again in the national picture, faced an uphill battle right from the start. BC, the best team in the league this season despite their second-place finish, came out roaring and outshot Maine 16-8 in the first. Carl Sneep and Lombardi each scored to give BC leads.

Each time, Maine came right back on the all-important first shift after allowing a goal. The best player in the country who won't play in the NCAA tournament this season, Gustav Nyquist, scored just :24 after Sneep's goal to tie the game at 1-1 and get the throng of Black Bear fans rocking. Then just 36 seconds after Lombardi made it 2-1, it was Joey Diamond setting a screen and deflecting a Jeff Dimmen shot past John Muse to tie it again.

Then, after Barry Almeida gave BC what appeared to be a commanding 6-4 lead with just over five minutes to play in the third, Spencer Abbott jumpstarted the final Maine comeback :36 later. We had a game again.

The Eagles seemed to be in control in the final minute, but an end zone draw and Maine timeout with half a minute to play resulted in Diamond's second of the night, as he fired a quick shot off a broken play to send the game to the extra session and set the stage for Lombardi's heroics.

It was a game that didn't follow a script ever seen around these parts.

One of the key matchups coming in was the Eagle shorthand, killing at an 85% clip and ranked 10th nationally, against Maine's No. 1 power play, clicking at nearly 28 percent with 60 goals on the season. Something had to give.

Early on, BC's penchant for getting in lanes and sticks on pucks, and pressuring the Bear puck carriers as they entered the zone, kept the normally roaring Maine man advantage to a whimper. Maine only managed one power play shot in the first period. Defense wins championships, and BC's defense was leading the way.

But the second period was a different story. Maine made some adjustments and took advantage of several BC penalties — and tired BC penalty killers — to finally break through and cut a 4-2 deficit to one goal on a Tanner House power play marker with just under five minutes to go. Maine would finish the period with 12 shots up a man. The power play was back in business.

"We weren't breaking out well and getting pucks in deep," said Diamond. "We were stopping short at the blue line, but we just had to get pucks deep, grind it out in the corners, and we wound up doing that and were successful with it in the second period."

Still, one of the key sequences might have been a two man advantage of 1:30 just prior to House's goal, when BC somehow killed it off despite surrendering seven shots.

It's not too often that you give up two power play goals in a game and feel like your penalty kill did a good job. That was the case tonight. And if it's true that your goaltender is usually your best penalty killer, Muse was certainly at his best when facing that top ranked power play.

This game had everything. You want big hits? How about Brian Dumoulin, a Maine native and the top rookie blueliner in the league, crunching Nyquist against the boards late in the game?

Usually you can tell how a game is going to go by what happens in key sequences. BC effectively weathered the storm in the second period, giving up just that one power play goal and getting goals of their own from Joe Whitney and Lombardi to take a 4-3 lead after two despite being outshot 16-5. It looked like Maine had their chance and squandered it.

Then in the third, Jimmy Hayes — as York said, how did he not make the All-Tournament Team? — and Almeida each claimed two goal leads again for the Eagles at 5-3 and 6-4, apparently putting the Bears away for good.

Not so fast. Abbott's tally and Diamond's extra attacker goal gave Maine all the momentum heading into overtime, forcing BC to regroup.

York said that's when his club's leadership shone at its brightest.

"The captains came up and just told us to play a fearless game and not to be afraid to make mistakes," Hayes said.

"Before we went out, Matt Price brought us up and we all knew what had to be done," said Lombardi. "He led the way with what he said in the locker room. We just wanted to keep playing our game and just because it was overtime, we couldn't change what we were doing. I think we were playing great the first three periods, so we just wanted to stay focused on that and not get too jittery or worry about losing the game. We just wanted to focus on doing the right things to win."

Fittingly, it was the two seniors, Price and Lombardi, who would combine on the overtime goal to capture BC's fourth title in six seasons.

One of the hallmarks of a winning team is resiliency in the face of adversity. This was one of those games where both teams showed a lot of it.

"There certainly wasn't any quit in our team," said Maine coach Tim Whitehead.

Nor in BC.

"We looked like we had Maine down and they came back," said York. "They looked like they had us on the ropes and we came back."

Was it the best Hockey East championship game ever?

12,103 left the TD Garden tonight thinking it was.

It just might have been.

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