BOSTON — Derek Arnold scored at 2 minutes, 50 seconds of overtime to clinch a 3-2 win and a four-point weekend for UMass Lowell over Northeastern at Matthews Arena Saturday night. The goal, Arnold’s 10th of the season, came on breakaway following a chip through a neutral zone from UML’s Michael Budd. NU defenseman Luke Eibler and forward Cody Ferriero attempted to glove Budd’s chip down, but collided at the center ice. Defenseman Anthony Bitteto stood in position to play the puck at the NU blue line, before the puck skipped over his stick, allowing Arnold to corral it and walk in alone on Chris Rawlings.
Northeastern held leads of 1-0 and 2-1, but couldn’t put a third past UML’s Doug Carr, who made 13 saves in the third period. The final 20 minutes tilted heavily in the Huskies’ favor after an even first 40. Carr kept the game tied, calmly brushing away the shots NU sent his way and getting his team to the overtime.
What I Saw
- Even in the third period, watching Northeastern dominate play, UMass Lowell’s compete level and commitment to simple, smart play shone through. The Huskies outshot the River Hawks, 13-7, late in the game, maintaining possession for most of the period. Aided by a pair of power plays, the Huskies looked certain for a go-ahead goal at some point. Aside from Carr’s brilliance — and there really isn’t a better way to describe the sophomore — the UML skaters executed near flawlessly in terms of defensive assignments. Whether it was boxing out swarming NU players after shots, seamless line changes or getting clears when they needed them, UML was nearly perfect. One mistake stands out — a failed clear attempt kept a winded penalty kill unit on the ice for about 30 seconds longer than UML coach Norm Bazin would’ve liked. Carr bailed the River Hawks out in that instance. In general, this commitment to the most fundamental concept of hockey that every coach reinforces in his players’ minds every chance he gets — keep it simple — has put UML in its current position.
- Northeastern played well enough to win. The bumbling mistakes on Arnold’s game-winning goal will stand out as microcosm of the Huskies’ fate in the last four games. The 62 minutes of hockey prior to the game-winner will be forgotten because those two points Lowell picked up are all that matter right now. But Northeastern can use this game to quell any doubt they may have about whether or not they belong in the Hockey East playoffs. Saturday’s loss came after some poor misplays, and those issues must be eliminated. There were positives, though: an abundance of quality scoring chances, a fairly impressive effort on the penalty kill and a power play that, for once, didn’t look completely hopeless. A loss is a loss, but a team that’s dropped four straight has to find a positive somewhere.
- Northeastern’s power plays in the third period were, even more than Arnold’s goal, the deciding factor Saturday night. The Huskies posted an 0 for 2 in the game, continuing their season-long dreadful performance with a man advantage. On the year, the Huskies are 9 for 97 on the power play — good for 9.3 percent and last in Hockey East by a pretty wide margin. In their last four games, NU is 1 for 15 on the power play. Even with this need for better performance, the tentative play continues, as the highly skilled players on NU’s power play units opt to move the puck from circle to slot to circle, rather than send any attempts on goal or work it low consistently. Perhaps this hesitance comes from some especially untimely shorthanded goals borne from turnovers on the power play. While NU’s five shorthanded goals allowed is hardly a pain point for the Huskies, they’ve come at pretty bad times. Friday night, Lowell’s Daniel Furlong’s shorty turned a two-goal deficit into a 3-0 UML lead. At Frozen Fenway last Saturday, Boston College’s Chris Kreider scored the game-winning goal on an NU power play. Even going back to a loss to Merrimack in the first half, Ryan Flanigan beat NU with a shorthanded goal in overtime. Whether or not this is a constant concern looming in the mind of NU’s point-men, the power play simply wasn’t good enough to score a big goal when NU needed it — again.
What I Thought
- Scott Wilson cemented himself as the best freshman forward in Hockey East this season with his performance on Saturday. Wilson picked up a goal and an assist for the River Hawks. His goal came on the power play in the first period — a slap shot from the right circle beat Rawlings blocker side. More impressive than the score, which tied the game, 1-1, was his effort on the assist. Breaking into the Northeastern zone, wheeling to the low, right circle and putting a hard, low shot on Rawlings from a poor angle. More than anything, Wilson looked to create a rebound with the effort, and he did, which Colin Wright slipped past Rawlings. Playing on the River Hawks’ third line, Wilson’s charge is not to lead the River Hawks offensively. Though, he is doing exactly that right now. His 11 goals and nine assists place him first on the club. In his last six games, he’s scored six goals and assisted on two. His teammates seem to respond well when he scores, too — UML is 8-2-0 when he records a goal. Part of the weekend’s appeal was the chance to see two of the league’s top freshmen on the ice at the same time, with Wilson and Northeastern’s Ludwig Karlsson. Both end the weekend leading their teams in scoring, but three goals and an assist in two games put Wilson on top in race between the two.
- Despite sitting in ninth-place in the league, calling Northeastern a truly bad team isn’t particularly fair to the Huskies. This is a team that defeated Michigan, Notre Dame (twice) and Minnesota — all on the road. But the downfall of many teams in Division I college hockey is streakiness. The 2011-12 season has been one of extended streaks for the Huskies, and that continued with the sweep. The two losses pushed the most recent run to four games. Prior, NU pieced together an eight-game unbeaten streak, which it needed desperately after starting the season 1-7-1. NU received timely scoring and remarkable goaltending from Rawlings during this stretch — both of those things have dried since. Naturally, the wins are going the same way.
- Toeing the company line, UML coach Norm Bazin said he was thrilled with the win if only because pulling two points from any team in Hockey East is a chore. Arnold followed his coach with similar remarks about the depth of Hockey East. The word “parity” gets thrown around a lot, and that’s exactly what this is. The negative connotation associated with that word, though, often leads most to believe teams are more average than they are good. This year, Hockey East games have become especially difficult to peg, while clubs are succeeding when they play non-conference games. After this weekend’s sweep, Lowell sits in fifth place in Hockey East, with Northeastern three points out of the final playoff spot in ninth. Still, two of the three games between these two teams were decided by one goal. Similarly, the Huskies have lost by a single score to second-place BC on three separate occasions. At this point, it’s unlikely that Northeastern will make the playoffs, but it likely won’t be because they aren’t a good hockey team.
What They Said
“They had iced the puck a few times. I thought maybe the faceoff could’ve been dropped a little faster. I thought there were some stall tactics.” — Northeastern coach Jim Madigan
Call it gamesmanship, call it a simple miscalculation, but UML seemed to have a difficult time figuring out who exactly it wanted on the ice on more than one occasion in the third period. At one point, six River Hawks lined up for a faceoff before an official noticed this and alerted UML to the mistake. Other times, restarts following icings or puck freezes by Carr took nearly a minute waiting for the UML players to settle. Either way, Madigan wasn’t too pleased with the officials handling — and allowing — of the stalling.
What They Didn’t Say
The win pushed UML to 4-4-0 on the road this season, which is ideal for a club that seems unbeatable at home. However, entering the game, the River Hawks had lost their last two Hockey East road games — both games they could have won. Bazin said he’s been generally impressed with his club away from the Tsongas Center, but Saturday could have gone just as easily ended in a loss. It didn’t, and that is all that anyone in a Lowell sweater cares about, but there’s no doubting the River Hawks lose something when they travel.
What Else You Show Know
- UML has another home-and-home weekend ahead of it in seven days, as the River Hawks play a pair with Massachusetts, beginning Friday night in Amherst, Mass. UML rolled UMass, 4-0, on Nov. 19, and next weekend’s games will decide the season series.
- Northeastern heads to Burlington, Vt., for a pair with Vermont to close its season series with the Catamounts. Desperately needing points, the Huskies won’t get them easy even playing the last-place team in Hockey East.
- Wilson’s goal on Saturday, which gave him 11 on the season, are the most by a UMass Lowell freshman since Brad Rooney scored 11 in 1997-98.
- The win kept UML in fifth place in Hockey East, two points back of fourth-place Maine. However, UML has four games in hand on the Black Bears. Nationally, UML moved up to third in the PairWise following Saturday’s games.
- Northeastern sits in ninth place in Hockey East, three points back of eighth-place New Hampshire. The Hockey East playoffs are still a chance for the Huskies, but they’ll need points fast. After the unbeaten streak that they carried through November and December, NU seemed like a possible bubble team for the NCAA Tournament. That, at this point, has faded almost entirely unless it can put together a similar run. Saturday ended with Northeastern 27th in the PairWise.