BOSTON -- Cam Atkinson scored twice including the game-winner late in the third period, and John Muse stopped 35 shots as top-seeded Boston College topped #4 Merrimack, 5-3, in the title game of the 27th annual Hockey East Championship Saturday night at the TD Garden. With the win, the Eagles (30-7-1) captured their second straight and conference-record 10th Hockey East title in their 15th appearance in the finals.
Atkinson's second of the contest triggered a three-goal third period and snapped a 3-3 tie at 14:49. It came 1:17 after Ryan Flanigan evened the score for the Warriors (25-9-4) who were making their first-ever trip to the championship game. Atkinson's heroics earned him the Hockey East Championship's Bill Flynn Most Valuable Player award. He was joined on the All-Championship Team by teammates Brian Gibbons, Tommy Cross and Muse along with Kyle Stollery and Flanigan of Merrimack.
A senior, Muse stopped 12 of 13 shots in the third period to seal the victory to improve to 13-1 all-time in Hockey East Tournament action. Along with his 8-0 record in NCAA Tournament play, he heads into the 2011 NCAAs with a 21-1 career postseason record.
The two teams started the contest slowly before a three-goal flurry just 1:48 apart awoke the Garden crowd. BC that broke through first as Pat Mullane picked up a loose puck just inside the Merrimack blue line, went around a defender and beat goaltender Joe Cannata for an unassisted tally at 9:15. The Warriors quickly answered as Flanigan took a pass from Carter Madsen, skated down the right side and from the top of the circle snapped a wrist shot past Muse to even the score only 26 seconds later. BC regained its advantage at 11:03 as Gibbons tucked a rebound of Atkinson's drive from the point through the legs of Cannata.
After Muse robbed Flanigan at the goalmouth late in the period, Merrimack's Mike Collins converted a feed from Joe Cucci after the ensuing faceoff to tie it at 2-2 with 24 seconds before intermission. Stephane Da Costa also assisted on the power play goal.
The scoring pace settled down over the first 10 minutes of the middle period as both teams killed penalties including Cannata coming up big during an Eagles two-man advantage. With the teams at equal strength, Merrimack's Jordan Heywood whistled a point blank blast from the slot that was tipped over the cage at 13:40. BC had a two-on-one opportunity on the next shift with Cannata coming out to stop a bid by Barry Almeida.
A Merrimack power play carried over into the final period with Muse turning aside scoring chances by Kyle Bigos and Elliott Sheen. Muse kept it even at 4:30 with an excellent point blank stop on Jeff Velleca as the Warriors began the period outshooting BC, 8-1, over the first eight minutes. The Eagles picked up the pace and shortly after Jimmy Hayes rattled one off the crossbar, Atkinson gave BC a 3-2 edge by rapping in a rebound of a Joe Whitney shot at 9:21.
Flanigan's second of the game would tie it at 3-3 at 13:32 on the power play as he knocked in a rebound of his own shot from a tough angle with assists going to Mike Collins and Da Costa. But the defending champion Eagles regained the lead 1:17 later as Atkinson, on a pass from Patrick Wey, blasted in a one-timer from the top of the left circle for his second of the game and league-leading 29th goal of the year. Brian Dumoulin wrapped up the scoring with a power play goal with 1:36 to play as his wrist shot from the point found the net through traffic.
Atkinson added an assist for a three-point night while Gibbons and Mullane each had a goal and an assist. Mullane had a solid tournament with six points on two goals and four assists
Flanigan finished with a pair of goals and lead all playoff scorers with nine points on five goals and four assists including at least one goal in each of the four playoff games. Collins added a goal and an assist and Da Costa chipped in with two helpers. Cannata made 30 saves in a strong effort. The Warriors went two-for-six on the power play and killed three of four BC attempts.
Also the defending national champions, Boston College earns an automatic bid to the 2011 NCAA Men's Ice Hockey Championship and Merrimack is all but assured of an at large bid. The selection show is Sunday at 11:30 a.m. and will be televised nationally on ESPN2 and ESPN2 HD.
Championship Game Post-Game Player Reactions (YouTube)
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Championship Game Boston College Postgame Quotes (PDF Format)
Championship Game Merrimack Postgame Quotes (PDF Format)