WORCESTER – They had 13 days to think about March 16, and it showed.
Saturday in Worcester, the lethal line of Johnny Gaudreau, Bill Arnold (Needham, Mass.) and Kevin Hayes (Dorchester, Mass.) lit up the night with six goals, leading Boston College to a 6-2 victory over Denver that punched the Eagles' ticket to Sunday night's regional final.
In doing so, the line – and BC as a whole – quickly erased the lingering doubts that stemmed from their Hockey East quarterfinal series against Notre Dame, in which a big, tough Irish team gave BC its biggest challenge of the season, and with a win in Game 3 on March 16 sent the Eagles home before the league semifinals for the first time in 10 years.
Gaudreau led the way with six points, including his first collegiate hat trick. He got things started for the Eagles just 25 seconds into the game, sneaking untouched into the slot and burying a feed from Hayes.
"That first shift was our worst nightmare," said Denver coach Jim Montgomery, who coached Gaudreau with the Dubuque Fighting Saints of the USHL. "They did make a high-end play."
There aren't a lot of things "Johnny Hockey" hadn't yet done in an Eagle jersey, but in the 15 games he scored two goals, he hadn't yet found a third.
That one missing piece lasted until the 8:13 mark of the second period Saturday night, when he followed a rebound off of defenseman Michael Matheson's strong net drive, and banked a shot off Denver goaltender Sam Brittain for his third of the game and a 5-0 BC lead.
In between the first and third Gaudreau goals, the Eagles quickly and efficiently took control of the game, and it was mostly thanks to their top line. Hayes scored 5:30 into the first, and Gaudreau made it 3-0 before even half the first period was over.
Hayes added another early in the second, and it was already obvious that the Eagles weren't letting the problems that dogged them against Notre Dame crop up again.
"It was rough losing to Notre Dame," Hayes said. "It hit everybody hard."
Because of the rare weekend off, the Eagles had time to let that wound heal, and prepare for the NCAA Tournament with what coach Jerry York called "another training camp."
"It's been an interesting last month for us," said York, whose four NCAA titles (2001, 2008, 2010, 2012) all started with the Eagles playing in a regional in Worcester. "I think we've played four games in 34 days. You start to go stir-crazy.
"We had to have a little more patience and balance, and we worked on that the last couple weeks."
It showed Saturday night as the Eagles methodically picked apart the Denver defense. And while the other three lines were good, the Eagles' top line was transcendent.
"It allows us to play hard defense, and if the other lines can contribute, we do," said captain Patrick Brown. "Obviously we're trying to score, but we're not as gifted as them. But if we can shut the other team down, and they're going to put up however many goals they decide to, it helps us out."
Arnold finished off the scoring for the Eagles, picking up his 13th of the year off another feed from Hayes, who finished with 2-2–4 totals. Lump that in with Gaudreau's six points and Arnold's goal and two assists, and the line combined for 13 points in the game.
What also helped the Eagles Saturday was that the game was televised on ESPNU, so there were three extended breaks in each period. That allowed Hayes, Gaudreau and Arnold to catch extended breathers, which in turn allowed York to send his top line out onto the ice even more than usual.
"Our game plan was to play them at least 24 minutes," York said. "I think they ended up playing almost 25. We can't do that in the regular season."
More time on the ice for Gaudreau, Arnold and Hayes meant more nightmares for the Pioneers.
"We believed we could beat BC," Montgomery said. "But then their top line went out and scored some unbelievable goals."
It's been a familiar refrain, and while Notre Dame had the Eagles singing a different tune two weeks ago, on Saturday night in Worcester it was showtime for one of the best lines in all of college hockey.