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BC 2, UMass 1

BC sets up showdown

Eagles keep pace by beating UMass

UMass forechecker Conor Sheary is in hot pursuit of defenseman Tommy Cross in the BC zone in the second period. UMass forechecker Conor Sheary is in hot pursuit of defenseman Tommy Cross in the BC zone in the second period. (Matthew J. Lee/Globe Staff)
By Mike Carraggi
Globe Correspondent / February 27, 2011

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Boston College had battled all season for an opportunity to compete for the top seed in the Hockey East tournament. Without a win over UMass last night, however, the Eagles would have been hard-pressed to reach that goal.

But the second-ranked Eagles beat the Minutemen, 2-1, at Conte Forum, overcoming a hoard of missed opportunities to skate into a home-and-home series next weekend against conference-leading New Hampshire that will decide the regular-season champion.

“We acknowledged the fact that we’re in a pennant race and we wanted to hold serve in the race,’’ said BC coach Jerry York. “It’s certainly not pressure, but we wanted to be successful this weekend to set up that showdown next weekend. It’s been elusive, that regular-season title, for us.’’

For BC (24-7-1, 18-6-1), the Hockey East regular-season championship is something that has eluded its grasp since the 2004-05 season. UNH leads the race for the title, 38 points to BC’s 37, after beating Northeastern last night, 6-3.

The defending national champion Eagles had hit a speed bump when they dropped 3 of 4 points last weekend against Northeastern, which dropped them from the top spot in the national rankings. The Eagles rebounded by sweeping a home-and-home series against the persistent Minutemen (6-20-5, 5-15-5).

“I thought UMass gave 120 minutes of competitive hockey. They never died,’’ said York. “I thought the weekend series was very good for us because it was like a playoff atmosphere.’’

The Eagles drew first blood at 7:35 of the opening period on Barry Almeida’s fifth goal of the season, his second of the weekend. The junior forward flew down on the right side of a three-on-three rush and received a look from middle man Steven Whitney (Bill Arnold also assisted) before depositing a strike past Paul Dainton to the far side of the net.

The hosts doubled their lead on a four-on-three power play at 13:03 of the first. Pat Mullane fired a one-timer from the right circle off a Chris Kreider feed, after the two alternated passes, for his fifth goal, taking advantage of Doug Kublin’s slashing penalty.

Meanwhile, BC’s penalty killing proved outstanding, despite facing a five-on-three disadvantage for 25 seconds inside the first two minutes of the game. The Eagles killed all five of the Minutemen’s power plays, making life easier for John Muse (24 saves).

UMass got one back with just under three minutes to go in the second when Anthony Raiola’s cross-ice pass from in front of the UMass penalty box found T.J. Syner, who was idling in front of the right post. Syner, Almeida’s cousin, easily chipped in his ninth goal of the season.

“It’s good for bragging rights in the summer,’’ said Almeida.

Similar to Friday night’s game (won by BC, 4-3), the Eagles had difficulty capitalizing on prime scoring opportunities and let the Minutemen hang around. Dainton abandoned the net in the second period to recover a puck that he batted backward, right to Kevin Hayes. But Hayes whiffed on a shot at a wide-open net.

Earlier in the period, Patch Alber was paroled from the penalty box for a slashing offense just as a loose puck was careening down the center of the ice toward Dainton. Alber intercepted the rubber but was unable to get the one-on-none attempt past Dainton, who finished with 36 saves after a 30-stop effort Friday in which he became UMass’s all-time saves leaders.

“I give a lot of credit to Dainton,’’ said Mullane. “Some nights they go in for us, other nights I feel like we’re going up against a brick wall. But that doesn’t change the way we play, we just keep shooting.’’

That mentality will have BC playing for the regular-season Hockey East championship this weekend.

“This is what you prepare for all season long, to go into the last weekend with our fates in our hand,’’ said Almeida. “Sweep the weekend and get a trophy.’’