TAMPA, FLA. - Taylor Matson parked himself right outside the crease and, in a flash, found himself with the puck and an open net.
Just like that, it was gone.
Matson flipped the puck toward the net for what looked like a sure goal, but Boston College robo-goalie Parker Milner lunged across and made a sprawling save to rob the Gophers captain.
"I wish I could have that back," Matson said later.
That singular play in the final minute of the first period summed up the Gophers frustration Thursday night in the semifinals of the Frozen Four. No matter what they tossed at Milner, he answered nearly every threat, sending the Gophers home with a 6-1 loss.
The Gophers crumbled amid an avalanche of defensive miscues and breakdowns, but the game was decided long before that as Milner flicked away shot after shot to prevent any sort of momentum shift.
"We wanted to make him uncomfortable," center Erik Haula said. "We had our chances."
The Gophers outshot the Eagles 31-25 and had plenty of scoring chances early. They kept firing pucks and pressuring Milner, but he stopped easy and difficult shots alike, never appearing rattled by anything happening around him.
He stuffed Nick Bjugstad on a Gophers power play early in the second period and then got Jake Hansen from point-blank range late in the period. On shots he didn't gobble up, Milner deflected them wide, limiting rebound opportunities.
"I think Minnesota was pressing, they had the puck, they had some excellent opportunities to score," Boston College coach Jerry York said. "Not just one but multiple times, and Parker was very confident and really fueled us to stay in the game."
No save was more timely or important than his beauty on Matson, which allowed the Eagles to maintain a 1-0 lead after one period despite being doubled up in shot attempts.
"I was lucky enough to get a good push across [the crease] and lucky that he didn't roof it on me so I got a pad on it," Milner said.
The Eagles led 2-0 lead midway through the second period, and it might as well have been 20-0 the way Milner is playing. He entered the Frozen Four with a 27-5 record, 1.70 goals-against average and .935 save percentage.
He is a talented, confident goalie who also happens to be surrounded by a stingy defensive corps, which usually is a successful combination.
"We know he's been hot," Bjugstad said. "The main thing was to get as many shots as possible. We did that for half the game. The other half we just let them control us."
Milner finally allowed his first goal of the NCAA tournament on a shot by Hansen early in the third period, but the damage was done by then. The Gophers' inability to score on Milner after getting some pretty good scoring chances seemed to rattle them. They started to press and rush plays, which created scoring opportunities for the Eagles. Unlike the Gophers, they buried their chances.
The Eagles showed why they are the No. 1 seed and heavy favorite to win the championship. They are skilled, fast and tough defensively. They have three lines that can score. And, of course, they have a brick wall in Milner, who covers up mistakes in front of him.
"They're a great team," Haula said.
The Gophers locker room was quiet afterward. Players sat at their stalls, still dressed in uniform, most of them with red, watery eyes. This group made it to the Frozen Four after being picked to finish sixth in the WCHA. They returned to the tournament after a three-year absence and began the process of making Gophers hockey relevant on the national scene again.
They ran into a hot goalie and better team Thursday and let the game get out of hand after committing too many mistakes.
"It's just bitter right now because we were so close to the championship and to lay an egg like that and not play up to our capabilities defensively and offensively," Hansen said, his voice trailing off. "That's going to be something where I'm going to be thinking back on this for a long time."
Milner's performance probably won't be easy to erase from their memories either.
Chip Scoggins firstname.lastname@example.org