It’s not how you start, it’s how you finish.
Those words have been a saving grace for Harvard men’s hockey in recent years as the Crimson has suffered through characteristically slow starts before turning up the heat in February to salvage its seasons.
On Monday night though, against defending national champion No. 4/5 Boston College (16-7-2, 12-6-1 Hockey East), it was an inability to close otherwise even periods that doomed Harvard (5-15-1, 3-12-0 ECAC) to a 4-1 loss in the first round of the Beanpot at TD Garden.
“The last couple minutes of the periods I think our game management took away any opportunity to be in the game,” Harvard coach Ted Donato ’91 said.
The overmatched Crimson kept pace with the Eagles for the majority of the first period, but with the clock winding down on the first stanza the puck found BC sophomore Quinn Smith off of a face-off in Harvard’s zone and Smith was one-on-one with junior goaltender Raphael Girard. A feint followed by a shot over Girard’s left shoulder put the Eagles up 1-0 with only 28 seconds left until intermission.
"The first goal was a little bit of a heartbreaker for us," Donato said.
Up until that point, the first period saw the two teams go back and forth with Girard turning away a number of BC shots as the Crimson offense challenged Eagles net-minder Parker Milner on the other end. With just under six minutes left in the opening frame, senior Luke Greiner fired a shot toward net that beat Milner, but could not beat the post marking the best scoring opportunity yet for either team.
“Greiner maybe caught the goalie sleeping a bit with the post,” Girard said. “[After that] we knew we could maybe get some goals. We knew we could play with this team, that’s for sure.”
Then, with 3:13 left in the first, senior defenseman Brendan Rempel was whistled for holding after a crushing hit behind net. The Crimson was able to mount a successful penalty kill, but shortly after the team’s returned to even numbers Smith found the back of the net to open up the scoring.
The Crimson came out of the first break composed as a series of Girard saves kept the deficit to one. Girard finished with 42 saves, his second highest total all season.
“I thought Raph was outstanding,” Donato said. “When he’s playing like that it gives a lot of confidence up and down the bench.”
Two holding calls on Eagles senior Patrick Wey gave Harvard opportunities on the power play, but the BC penalty kill and defense proved formidable on the night, successfully killing three penalties and limiting the Crimson to just 20 shots. With two minutes left on the clock in the second period Girard had recorded 27 saves and Harvard was still down just one.
“When we did have our chances I’m not sure we took full advantage of them,” Donato said. “A couple guys had the puck alone in front of net and of course Millner had some good saves. There are not a lot of teams that will win trading chances with that Boston College team. They certainly have a lot of firepower.”
That firepower was on full display in the last two minutes of the second period. Smith once again found himself on the receiving end of a fortuitous pass as the puck made its way across net untouched. Smith fired a shot into the upper left corner for his second goal of the game and fourth of the season.
51 seconds later BC defenseman Michael Matheson received the puck off the draw and fired a slapshot over Girard’s left shoulder to put the Eagles up, 3-0, and put the game out of reach.
A Danny Biega slapshot in the third period saved the Crimson from enduring its fifth shutout of the season, bringing the score to 3-1. The goal was the captain’s first of the year, after posting 10 last season en route to a first team All-America nod.
“I just thought about shooting it as hard as I could and I thought it gave us a little more of an edge after the shot,” Biega said.
That edge was not sustained as BC’s Steven Whitney would score an unassisted goal late in the third to close out the scoring.
Harvard’s inability to advance to next Monday’s Beanpot championship game marked the fifth straight year that the Crimson has been relegated to the consolation game after falling in the first round. Harvard has not won the Beanpot since 1993. Before the Eagles take on Northeastern in the championship in six days’ time, the Crimson will face a rematch with No. 13 Boston University, which Harvard beat, 6-5, in a stunning upset on Jan. 9.
—Staff writer Alexander Koenig can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @akoenig14.