LOWELL, Mass. – The first game of the Hockey East Tournament ended in an upset, as seventh-seeded Providence beat second-seeded Massachusetts-Lowell on Friday night. Derek Army and Matt Bergland led the way offensively with two goals apiece, while Alex Beaudry stopped 33 of the 36 shots he faced. Game 2 is Friday at 7 p.m. The Friars can advance to the semifinals for the first time since 2001 with a win.
The River Hawks opened the scoring 9:59 into the first when a Scott Wilson shot led to a scramble in front that ended with Josh Holmstrom knocking in a loose puck. Army tied the game 5:28 into the second when he ripped a slap shot inside the right post for a power-play goal. The Friars took the lead four minutes later when Andy Balysky knocked home a rebound after Doug Carr (36 saves) stopped a golden chance from Ross Mauermann.
Lowell knotted the game again 2:25 later when Wilson beat Beaudry blocker-side for a power-play goal. Army struck again to give the Friars a 3-2 lead late in the second when he took a pass from Damian Cross on a 3-on-2 and snapped a shot over Carr’s glove. Providence added an insurance marker with 8:30 left in the third when Tim Schaller hit the post and Bergland knocked in the rebound. The Friars would need it, as Matt Ferreira cut the lead to 4-3 with 4:29 to go. Bergland added his second of the game on an empty-netter with 1:35 to go.
What I saw
-Beaudry made several huge saves in the final minute of the first to keep it a one-goal game. Holmstrom and David Vallorani combined for three great chances on one shift. The first came when Vallorani found Holmstrom cutting to the net, but Beaudry snagged his redirect with the glove. A few seconds later, Beaudry kicked away a Vallorani shot that got deflected, then stopped Holmstrom’s rebound bid as well. In the waning seconds of the period, Matt Ferreira had another golden chance for Lowell, but Beaudry made another kick save.
-The Friars dominated the second period. They outscored the River Hawks 3-1 in the frame and outshot them 18-10. Numbers aside, the Friars just looked like the hungrier, faster and more aggressive team. They won the majority of the puck battles and were able buzz around the Lowell net all period, constantly finding ways to shake loose from River Hawk defenders. The result was an incredible nine shots on goals from right around the top of the crease. If it weren’t for a bunch of big saves by Carr, the Friars could’ve easily had five or six goals in the period.
What I thought
-Lowell started the game with a little too much energy. Chad Ruhwedel went to the box for hitting from behind just 14 seconds into the game, then Zack Kamrass took a crosschecking penalty 1:08 into the penalty kill. The 52 seconds of 5-on-3 forced the River Hawks to settle down, and they looked much calmer after they successfully killed both penalties. After Providence registered the first five shots of the game, Lowell outshot the Friars 14-6 over the final 16-plus minutes of the first and went into the break with a 1-0 lead.
-The River Hawks appeared to take a step forward defensively against Providence last weekend, but then they took a step right back Thursday night. After allowing 16 goals over a four-game stretch prior to last weekend, the River Hawks gave up just three goals and 48 shots against Providence in a weekend sweep. On Thursday, though, they surrendered 41 shots and would’ve given up a lot more than five goals if it weren’t for Carr. They did a bad job clearing out the front of the net, and the Friars were able to continually find open space in close.
What they said
-Providence coach Nate Leaman: “It was obviously a good game. Hard-played. I think the teams know one another. Tonight, I thought we did a better job of generating offense. Obviously five goals is a big plus. It was a good game, a close game. Obviously it came down to that third period, and we were fortunate to win the third period.”
-Lowell coach Norm Bazin: “We didn’t play our best hockey, and it’s the wrong time of year to not be playing your best hockey. … I thought we were reactionary tonight. We have to get back to being proactive.”
What else you should know
-This was the first postseason game for every player on the Providence roster, as the Friars had not reached the playoffs since 2008 prior to this year.
-This was Lowell’s first home playoff game since 2002, when it beat Northeastern two games to one in a quarterfinal series.
-This was the first playoff meeting between Lowell and Providence since 1997. The River Hawks held a 4-1-1 edge in their previous six meetings.
-This was Providence’s first playoff win since 2005 and first win at the Tsongas Center since Jan. 13, 2007.