PROVIDENCE, R.I. -- For the Denver Pioneers, one year made all the difference.
Well, one year later and the absence of Johnny Gaudreau, Kevin Hayes and Bill Arnold.
Boston College's mega line that contributed nearly 200 points has moved on to the professional ranks and was surely missed as the Eagles met DU in the NCAA Tournament for a second consecutive year, this time in the East Regional at the Dunkin' Donuts Center.
"I think it gives you confidence when you're preparing," Denver head coach Jim Montgomery said of his team's firepower advantage in this year's go-around. "That line was scary. It was hard to match up with them."
The BC offense was certainly serviceable for much of the season, but faltered down the stretch with just three goals in its last three games. A 1-0 shutout at the hands of Vermont on March 15 eliminated the Eagles from Hockey East title contention and they now finish the season at 21-14-3.
The Pioneers scored twice in the first period and three times in the third for a 5-2 win on Saturday afternoon, ousting BC in the first round of the tournament for the third time in its last five appearances.
"I'm really happy, but we're on a mission this year," Montgomery said. "This is what we expected. We're a determined group and I thought our start showed how much we wanted this game."
The Pioneers took advantage of a pair of power plays to establish some early momentum and grabbed a 1-0 lead on the second man-up chance just 4:48 into the first. Senior defenseman Joey LaLeggia was the goal scorer, beating BC sophomore Thatcher Demko with a hard shot upstairs for his 14th of the season and second in three games.
BC managed just two shots on goal through more than the first ten minutes of the game, but came to life as junior captain Michael Matheson ripped a bomb from just inside the blue line to tie the score at 16:51.
Denver beat the buzzer and took a 2-1 lead into the first intermission as sophomore winger Trevor Moore took a beautiful pass from senior Ty Loney to score on an odd-man rush while crashing the net on Demko's right side post.
The Eagles could definitely color themselves fortunate to be down by just one goal after 20 minutes, but picked up the pace in the second. Neither side cracked the scoreboard in the frame while the teams each took seven shots on goal.
"Denver played well, but the game was punctuated by us taking two penalties real early. We did a good job killing off those power plays," BC head coach Jerry York said. "After two, the game was 2-1 and we were right in the mix."
Sophomore Will Butcher and junior Grant Arnold put the game away for the Pioneers with goals in a 59-second span just before the midway point of the third. Butcher took a nifty drop pass at the point from senior assistant captain Daniel Doremus and beat Demko after a drive down the left side to make the score 3-1 at 8:05.
Arnold could not have picked a more perfect time to score his first goal of the season as he cut down the center of the offensive zone and snapped the puck past Demko at 9:04.
"It was an awesome accomplishment to get my first one, that's for sure," Arnold said. "My mindset in the playoffs has always been that it's a new season. One game, one goal now, but it's a great feeling."
Sophomore Ryan Fitzgerald gave the Eagles a sign of life with 5:09 left in regulation as he took a drop feed from Matheson for a wrister from the top of the right circle.
It was too little, too late as Arnold scored his second of the game into an empty net with 1:13 remaining in regulation to send the Pios to their first NCAA regional final since 2011.
With one more win, the Pioneers would return to the Frozen Four for the first time in ten years as they will play on Sunday night at 5 p.m. DU has some positive memories at TD Garden as it finished off the 2004 national title with a 1-0 win over Maine in their last tournament game played in Beantown.