LOWELL, Mass. – Massachusetts-Lowell remained in a tie for first place in Hockey East after beating Merrimack 4-0 on Friday night. The River Hawks are now tied with Boston College at 30 points, while the Warriors slipped to sixth, three points back. Connor Hellebuyck made 31 saves to pick up his fourth shutout of the season and improve to 12-0-0 in his last 12 starts.
The game was scoreless through two periods, but the River Hawks (20-9-2, 14-8-2 HE) finally broke through 5:50 into the third. Jake Suter pinched in from the point before feeding Adam Chapie in the slot for the redirect. Derek Arnold made it 2-0 a little less than three minutes later when he tipped a Ryan McGrath shot past Sam Marotta (21 saves). Arnold and Colin Wright finished off the scoring with a pair of empty-netters.
With the win, Lowell climbed to seventh in the Pairwise. Despite the loss, Merrimack (14-13-6, 12-9-3 HE) actually moved up one spot to 28th, although its RPI and TUC record obviously took a hit.
What I saw
-Merrimack killed three penalties in the second period without top defenseman Jordan Heywood. The junior captain went to the dressing room with an equipment issue, and he wound up missing about nine minutes of action. During that time, Kyle Bigos, Shawn Bates and Quinn Gould were all called for penalties. Lowell generated several good looks, but the Merrimack penalty kill did a great job blocking shots and clearing second chances. Lowell coach Norm Bazin said after the game that his team did a good job of not letting the unsuccessful power plays deflate them.
-The Warriors had several great chances during a scramble late in the second while they were on the power play, but they couldn’t break through. Bates had the first chance, but Hellebuyck made a nice save. Gould followed up with an even better look, but Hellebuyck made an incredible lunging save. Gould eventually got the puck back and fired into a mass of bodies in the crease, but it hit someone and stayed out. The play was reviewed just to make sure the puck never went in, and the no-goal call was upheld.
What I thought
-The Warriors didn’t play poorly. In fact, they played a really good defensive game for most of the night. The two goals were two of the few times a River Hawk managed to get open in the grade-A area. And even on those, the goal-scorer wasn’t open for more than a split second. The River Hawks just did a great job of capitalizing on those two chances, while the Warriors couldn’t take advantage of their chances at the other end. Through two periods, Merrimack had six shots on goal from the grade-A area, while Lowell only had three. The River Hawks got more in the third, but most of them came after they already had a 2-0 lead, when the Warriors were forced to take more chances.
-Hellebuyck didn’t face a lot of great chances, but he came up big when he did. The aforementioned sequence late in the second stands out the most, but Merrimack had several other good chances, especially on the power play. The Warriors registered 10 shots on goal on their five power plays, and more than a couple of them came with traffic in front. Hellebuyck did a great job of squaring up to the shooter and not giving up rebounds, though.
What they said
-Lowell coach Norm Bazin: “I thought it was a playoff-style hockey game. There wasn’t a whole lot of room out there. Thankfully for us, the dam broke in the third period. We were able to start generating some offense. Credit to them. It was a well-played hockey game on both sides.”
-Merrimack coach Mark Dennehy: “I thought at the beginning of the game that the team that executed their game plan the longest was going to end up winning the game, much like the last time we played. It held true. They played their game longer than we played our game. … Whoever scores first in this series has got a really good chance of winning. Both teams played pretty good defense.”
What else you should know
-The River Hawks are now 16-2-1 in their last 19 games, matching a program record for their best 19-game stretch. The 1995-96 team also had a 16-2-1 run.
-The Warriors killed all four Lowell power plays and have now killed 35 straight.
-These Merrimack River rivals conclude their season series Sunday at 4 p.m. in North Andover. That game will decide the season series, as the Warriors won the first meeting of the season 1-0 back on Feb. 1.