LOWELL, Mass. – Massachusetts-Lowell completed a season sweep of Massachusetts on Saturday, winning 3-2 in front of a Tsongas Center crowd of 5,468. All five goals came during a seven-minute stretch in the middle of the second period. Lowell’s Christian Folin opened the scoring 6:23 into the period on a shorthanded 2-on-1. The River Hawks’ special teams struck again four minutes later, as Riley Wetmore one-timed a Scott Wilson pass into the back of the net for a power-play tally.
The Minutemen (10-15-2, 7-12-1 Hockey East) cut the deficit in half 38 seconds later when Michael Pereira batted a rebound out of the air for his 10th goal of the season. Just 26 seconds after that, Derek Arnold deposited a rebound to give Lowell (16-9-2, 10-8-2 HE) a 3-1 lead. Conor Sheary cut the lead to 3-2 two minutes later, but that was as close as UMass would get.
What I saw
-Not a whole lot of action in the first. Both teams played pretty sloppy, resulting in lots of broken plays and not many quality scoring chances. The River Hawks had the possession edge for the first 10-12 minutes, but the Minutemen evened things up as the period went on. Neither team managed to turn that possession into scoring chances, though. The period ended with 13 combined shots on goal, 21 shot attempts, and four shots on goal from below the faceoff dots.
-The second period certainly made up for the boring first. There was a lot more back-and-forth play, and five goals were scored, including three in a span of 1:04. The second period featured 12 total shots on goal from below the faceoff dots, compared to just four in the first. Neither coach really wanted the game to open up as much as it did, but it certainly made for entertaining hockey. In the third period, the River Hawks played smart with the lead and prevented the game from opening up again. They still attacked when they got the chance, but they didn’t take any unnecessary risks. They wound up outshooting UMass 13-8 in the final 20 minutes.
What I thought
-The River Hawks needed this sweep to get back on track and keep pace in the race for home ice. Two weekends ago, their 11-game unbeaten streak came to a screeching halt with losses to Merrimack and Maine. They didn’t play well the weekend before that either, even though they did take three points from Northeastern. The River Hawks ended up without a game last weekend thanks to the blizzard that hit the region, and coach Norm Bazin said the extra rest was important for his team. It showed on the ice, as they got back to playing the way they had been playing for most of their unbeaten streak. Lowell is now two points out of home ice, and it moved up to 14th in the Pairwise as of 10:45 p.m.
-At the other end of the spectrum, this weekend could prove to be devastating for the Minutemen. They had steered clear of the race for eighth for most of the season, but a 1-4-0 record in their last five games has landed them squarely on the bubble. They now sit in that decisive eighth spot, just one point ahead of Maine. Credit Maine and Vermont for picking up their play at the right time, but UMass should’ve never fallen into this predicament. The Minutemen have seven games to right the ship and avoid disaster. Their next three games are all against bubble teams — Northeastern on Tuesday and Maine for a pair next weekend. Those three games could very well decide their season.
What they said
-Lowell coach Norm Bazin: “It was a hard-fought game. I thought we played a very mature third period. We kept their opportunities to a minimum. … I was very pleased this weekend with the way we responded after we got scored on. We responded quickly. I liked the fact that we outshot them tonight. Last night we obviously got outshot. I liked the way we answered the bell on special teams. Last night we gave up two power plays and a shorty. There were some adjustments, and there were certainly some improvements tonight.”
-UMass coach John Micheletto: “I don’t think we’re at that point (where we’re hitting the panic button). I think our guys have a lot of belief in what we’re doing. There are things here and there that you’re always trying to mind. We’re at that stage right now where we’re trying to fight through some things, but I don’t sense any panic or any shaken beliefs.”