Merrimack defenseman Kyle Bigos (6 feet 5 inches) has the size advantage in a collision with Boston College’s Michael Sit (5-10).
Merrimack defenseman Kyle Bigos (6 feet 5 inches) has the size advantage in a collision with Boston College’s Michael Sit (5-10).
winslow townson/for the globe

No matter the score, Boston College opponents know they can’t afford to count out a rally by the top-ranked team in the country and defending NCAA champion.

On Friday night, Merrimack (4-6-1, 3-3-0 Hockey East) learned that painful lesson when it blew a three-goal lead on the way to a 4-3 loss in front of 6,638 at Conte Forum.

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Senior right wing Steven Whitney scored the winner at 12:38 of the third, his second tally of the game, when he collected a cross-ice pass from Johnny Gaudreau and snapped a shot from the right circle past Sam Marotta (38 saves).

It was the fifth multi-goal game of Whitney’s career and his eighth winner. BC improved to 9-1-0, 8-1-0 and extended its winning streak to nine games.

“I think clearly from my perspective, down 3-0, Merrimack had all the jump, they were really taking it to us,’’ said BC coach Jerry York, who won his 922d game and is now two shy of the Division 1 record held by Ron Mason. “Stevie Whitney’s [first] goal just kind of ignited the whole bench. The biggest thing we’ll take as a club is just the character we showed coming back from a difficult 3-0 lead for Merrimack.’’

It was the last game before Thanksgiving for both teams.

The Warriors hoped to end a long winless streak against the Eagles dating to 1997, and although it looked positive through 26 minutes, it unraveled from there, and the skid was extended to 26 (0-24-2).

After a scoreless first period during which each team generated 14 shots on goal, the game really heated up in the second.

Freshman left wing John Gustafsson put the visitors on the board at 1:15 with his first collegiate goal, which sparked a three-goal run over 4:36.

During a two-on-one, Gustafsson snapped a shot that eluded Parker Milner (23 saves).

Mammoth Merrimack defenseman Kyle Bigos, who rattled a shot off the post at 3:30 of the opening period, potted his second of the season on a shot from just inside the blue line at 3:19.

At 5:51, junior right wing Mike Collins boosted the league to 3-0 from the doorstep.

Then, it was the home team’s turn as BC scored three in a span of 5:14. Whitney started the comeback at 7:39 when he deked defenseman Brendan Ellis and wristed a shot past Marotta.

The Eagles closed to within one in the last second of a power play. With BC buzzing, a rebound bounced out to senior defenseman Patrick Wey in the right circle, and he fired it past Marotta at 11:50 for his first of the season and fourth of his career.

At 12:53, sophomore right wing Danny Linell brought his team all the way back when he scored off the rush, beating Marotta on a backhander from outside the left post for his first of the season.

BC’s fourth unanswered goal proved too much for the Warriors to overcome.

Still, Merrimack coach Mark Dennehy was pleased with his team’s effort.

“It was a pretty entertaining game,’’ said Dennehy. “Both of Whitney’s goals were snipes. I like how my team played. We had plenty of chances. You don’t like to give up a three-goal lead, but that’s a good team. That’s the No. 1 team in the country.’’