CHESTNUT HILL, Mass. -- The stakes are higher this time of year.
That's when Boston College knows how to turn up the gas pedal on the ice.
The third-seeded Eagles did just that once again on Friday night, scoring three goals in the second period and holding on for a 4-2 win over Vermont in the opening game of the Hockey East Tournament Quarterfinals at Kelley Rink.
BC head coach Jerry York could feel the emotions elevate and thought his team responded very well from the outset.
"The feeling on the ice, the feeling in the locker room is just a completely different animal than the regular season," York said. "I thought our team got off to a great start tonight. The first 30 minutes of the game, I thought were very sharp."
BC can punch its ticket to Causeway Street and the league's final four for a record 22nd time with another win on Saturday and would avenge last season's loss to No. 8 seed Notre Dame in doing so.
The teams got off to a pretty calculated start in the first, but BC freshman defenseman Noah Hanifin chalked up the go-ahead play just before the midway mark. After each side successfully killed off a penalty in the first six minutes, Hanifin put the Eagles up with his first goal in more than two months at the 9:38 mark.
Hanifin took a feed from junior captain Michael Matheson, beat a defender past the faceoff circle on a 2-on-1 and tucked a shot under the crossbar on UVM sophomore Mike Santaguida.
"When I got by him, I kind of saw a little bit of a space," Hanifin said. "The defenseman definitely took the other guy (on the odd-man rush), gave me a lane to look at and the goalie dropped right away. ... I saw an opening up top and just put it in."
The floodgates opened in the second period as the Eagles found the back of the net three times to take a commanding lead they would never relinquish.
Freshman Zach Sanford doubled and tripled the BC lead less than four minutes into the second. The Wild prospect from Auburn, N.H. took advantage of a defensive breakdown off a faceoff just 75 seconds in before cutting quickly to the backhand for the second time at 3:20.
"It was a nice breakout, a nice pass from Noah (Hanifin) just coming over the blue line," Sanford said of his second goal. "Watching clips and stuff, I had some moves in my head that I really wanted to try. I thought of that one and it worked."
Ryan Fitzgerald scored the 14th goal of his sophomore year to give BC a 4-0 lead on a power-play opportunity. At 4:08, he Matheson's third assist of the night for an open shot from the right circle.
"The story of the game was the three and a half minutes or so in the second period where we just kind of fell asleep," UVM head coach Kevin Sneddon said. "We got walked on a faceoff, we didn't get a block on a penalty kill and we left a guy wide open in the neutral zone. ... Obviously, it's hard to chase BC. It's hard to chase any team when you're down four."
Vermont cracked the scoreboard 50 seconds later as junior defenseman Alexx Privitera broke up a puck in the neutral zone and sent the offense the other way. BC sophomore Thatcher Demko looked to have Brady Shaw's shot covered, but the puck sneaked between his pads and gave the UVM sophomore his team-best 17th goal of the season.
At the 8:07 mark, UVM was able to halve the deficit as Demko left a juicy rebound at the right crease for sophomore Brendan Bradley to pot into an open side of the cage.
Things quieted down in the third as the Cats had a 9-8 shots on goal advantage, but Demko stopped all that he saw. The win was BC's seventh in as many all-time playoff games against the Catamounts and its seventh in the round of eight as the third seed.
"We had about a 10-12 minute interlude where Vermont just kind of took over and controlled that part of the game, closed it to 4-2," York said, "but I thought we finished very strong down the stretch."
Hoffman came in to stop the bleeding after the Eagles made it 4-0 and pitched a shutout in 34:49 of time on ice, enough to earn the start in Saturday night's second game.