Stephen Johns had a pretty difficult assignment heading into Game 1 of Notre Dame's Hockey East quarterfinal. He and his defensive partner, Kevin Lind, were charged with playing opposite BC's top lin of Johnny Gaudreau, Kevin Hayes, and Bill Arnold.
Johns answered the call, and then some.
A pair of goals and an assist from the defenseman, who also had a big hand in shutting down the Eagles' top line, led an upset-minded Notre Dame to a 7-2 win Friday night at Conte Forum.
"We're playing with a lot of confidence right now," said Johns. "We know that if we all play together, with the same jam, we can beat anybody in the country."
The game began with a physical tone, but neither team was penalized until Jeff Costello was called for slashing at 17:19.
On the ensuing power play, a well-worked triangle by the Eagles saw Adam Gilmour feed Ryan Fitzgerald in the slot. The freshman's first shot attempt was stopped by Steven Summerhays, but Fitzgerald got his own rebound and deposited it for a 1-0 Eagles lead.
The advantage was short-lived though for BC. Only 1:12 after Fitzgerald's tally, Patrick Brown and Costello took matching roughing penalties. With the teams skating four-aside, Notre Dame was able to tie it up with only 9.4 seconds left in the first.
T.J. Tynan skated the puck to the circles, and dropped it to Thomas DiPauli. With Johns camped out in front, DiPauli hit him with a cross-ice pass for an easy tap-in, deadlocking the score heading into the intermission.
"It all starts with [Johns]; he's the backbone of our team," said Notre Dame head coach Jeff Jackson. "He's played extremely well recently, and we're going to need him playing well for the rest of the season for us to achieve our potential."
The second period was all Notre Dame. An early penalty on Quinn Smith gave the Irish a man-advantage 1:06 in. Vince Hinostroza found Johns walking in from the blue line, and the senior ripped a wrist shot past Thatcher Demko for his second of the night, and Notre Dame's first lead.
"It's nice to chip in whenever I can," said Johns. "I've worked on my offensive game over the four years I've been at school, and to be able to score two huge goals in a huge game like this is huge for my confidence."
Hinostroza would get involved again later in the frame to make it 3-1. After taking the puck below the goal line, he was able to find Mario Lucia in the slot to push the Irish's lead to two.
"I thought the first period was a ball game," said BC head coach Jerry York. "Then they broke it open in the second."
A carbon copy of the Lucia goal gave Notre Dame a 4-1 lead early in the third. Steve Fogarty was able to dangle past an Eagle defenseman, and then found Peter Schneider for a one-timer in the slot that beat Demko over his should for a three-goal Notre Dame advantage.
"We just got beat soundly by a better hockey team tonight than we were," said York. "We've got our work cut out for us, and we understand that.
"The only objective now is to get the series to Sunday."
Notre Dame clogged the neutral zone all night, and made it difficult for Boston College to enter the zone with fluidity. The normally potent Eagles offense was stymied all night by aggressive, puck-chasing Notre Dame skaters. The Irish would score twice more in the third, while a late power play goal by Brown extended Gaudreau's point streak to 30 with an assist.
"You're playing a tremendous team with great puck skills, and transitionally, if you don't keep the game simple, they bury you," said Jackson. "You just have to play the game simple, and part of that is doing the right things with the puck, and playing with discipline."
BC will have to recover quickly, as the teams meet for Game 2 Saturday afternoon, with the chance for Notre Dame to clinch the series.
"When our forwards are back-checking as hard as they were tonight, allowing the D to have good gaps like we did tonight, it's almost impossible for a team to come in and gain speed on us, and kind of get us off or game," said Johns. "We usually sing the fight song after a victory, but we didn't tonight because the job is not done."