BOSTON -- If you're going to set your sights on an upset, you might as well aim high. Right now in college hockey, there's no better target than the Boston College Eagles, unanimously ranked as the nation's top team.
In Monday night's Beanpot final at TD Garden, the Northeastern Huskies, in search of their first Beanpot title since 1988, showed no signs of being intimidated, taking the Eagles to overtime before dropping yet another heartbreaker.
In a match that hardly looked like it featured two of the best goaltenders in the nation (statistically speaking), BC outlasted a game Northeastern squad in a 7-6 thriller before 17,565.
Both teams came back from three deficits during the course of regulation, but it was the Eagles (22-6-0) who celebrated last. It marked the first time BC brought the Beanpot back to the Heights in back-to-back years since winning three straight in 1963-65.
The last three years the team that won the Beanpot went on to win the national championship, including BC in 2008 and 2010.
"You have to throw the records out," said BC coach Jerry York, minutes after junior forward Jimmy Hayes buried the game-winner to give the Eagles their 16th Beanpot crown. "They're 5-2-1 in their last eight games. That was a pretty formidable opponent we played.
"I feel good about the 'W,' but also that we beat a very good hockey team."
Subdued Northeastern coach Greg Cronin said he was proud of his squad, which fell to 10-12-6, adding that the game had more drama than any other he could recall, including Stanley Cup finals and world championships.
"At the end of the third period, I said, 'It's a shame somebody has to lose this,'" Cronin said. "At the end of the day, the team that possessed the puck won. They finished off what they do better than anybody in the country, which is a tremendous transition game."
Hayes's goal came at the six-minute mark of overtime. Charging down the slot, Hayes took a feed from linemate and Beanpot MVP Chris Kreider (two goals, one assist), corralled it off his skates and slammed it home.
"All five guys were moving the puck," Hayes said afterward, stressing the win was a team effort. "I just went to the net, and banged it home."
Northeastern forced overtime with 1:46 to play in regulation when Wade MacLeod converted a feed from Steve Silva, slashing the puck past BC goalie John Muse, creating the game's sixth tie. The Huskies had a chance to win it in the final 30 seconds, but Muse was up to the task.
Brodie Reid gave the Huskies a 5-4 lead at 8:44 of the third with a second-effort tally. After getting the puck in tight, Reid smacked a backhander that Muse blocked. The rebound, however, dropped back to Reid, who made sure his second backhander got over Muse.
But, true to the "anything you can do I can do better" nature of the game, BC answered with a backhand strike of its own. Freshman Bill Arnold, driving down the left shot, managed to wedge a backhander over Chris Rawlings' blocker to knot the game 5-5 at 10:12.
Ninety-two seconds later, Kreider, in a move similar to a short-handed goal he scored in last year's final, drove hard to the net and slashed across the NU goalmouth. Rawlings pokechecked the puck, but the shot ricocheted off Kreider and past the NU netminder to give the Eagles a 6-5 lead at 11:44.
The Huskies were facing an uphill battle just 9:12 into the contest, when BC, which owns a 17-2-0 record when scoring first, went up 1-0. Defenseman Tommy Cross, the hero of last week's semifinal win over Boston University, started the scoring parade, when his centering pass to a streaking Steven Whitney instead hit the skate of NU's Drew Daniels and deflected past NU goaltender Chris Rawlings. It was a harbinger of a long night for both goaltenders.
Northeastern finished the period up 2-1, with a pair of late goals 68 seconds apart. At 17:04, NU's Luke Eibler took a point-to-point pass from Jamie Oleksiak and snapped a shot from the right side that sailed past a tip attempt by Garrett Vermeersch and over Muse's right shoulder for a power-play tally to tie the game.
Still on the power play, Northeastern took the lead on a laser by Reid. MacLeod dangled the puck tantalizingly close to the BC defense at the high slot before sliding it to Reid at the left faceoff dot. Reid didn't hesitate, unloading a one-time bomb that blew past Muse blocker side.
Less than a minute into the second stanza, BC got even. Cross sent a shot from the right point that caromed off the boards behind the NU net and back out by the left faceoff circle. BC's Pat Mullane beat NU's Mike Hewkin to the loose puck and pushed it past a sliding Rawlings at the 53-second mark.
At 2:47, with the Huskies a man down, NU's Rob Dongara picked up the puck at his own blue line, picked up speed and raced past BC's Philip Sameulsson. Just before crashing into Muse, Dongara roofed the puck to complete a spectacular short-handed rush, giving Northeastern a 3-2 lead.
The momentum shifted again less than three minutes later. With the Eagles on a power play, BC completed a textbook tic-tac-toe play to deadlock the game at 3-3. BC's Brian Dumoulin sent a pass deep to Mullane, who found Kreider dead center between the hash marks. Kreider calmly fired the puck past Rawlings for his eighth goal of the season at 5:25.
"That line has become a dominant line for us," York said. "They were a catalyst for us winning tonight."
At 12:07, BC regained the lead on a hustle play by Whitney. Again, BC's Cross figured in the scoring, driving down the right side and getting a shot on Rawlings, which the NU goalie blocked with his left pad. Whitney, however, was crashing the net, and shoveled the rebound past a sprawling Rawlings for a 4-3 Eagle margin.
The lead, like every lead in this game, was short-lived. NU captain Tyler McNeely pounced on a rebound of a MacLeod shot and rapped it past Muse for a 4-4 stalemate at the close of the second period.
Asked if there were any positives that the Huskies could take from another near miss in the Beanpot, MacLeod didn't hesitate.
"We know we can play with the No. 1 team [in the country]," he said. "Our offense was there, which is nice. But you can't give seven goals and expect to win hockey games."
The Huskies won't have to wait long for another shot at the Eagles. The squads meet twice this weekend for a home-and-home series, starting at BC on Friday.
"Northeastern is coming on strong," York said. "As long as Greg is there, with his leadership, they're going to have a strong club for a number of years."
Brion O'Connor covers college hockey for ESPNBoston.com.