LOWELL, Mass. – Massachusetts-Lowell beat Maine 4-2 on Thursday to take Game 1 of their Hockey East quarterfinal series. Scott Wilson broke a 1-1 tie 1:52 into the third when he followed up a Christian Folin drive to the net and buried his second goal of the game. Joseph Pendenza scored off an A.J. White rebound 21 seconds later, and Josh Holmstrom made it 4-1 four minutes after that when he tipped in a Chad Ruhwedel slapper.
Maine opened the scoring with a power-play goal at the 13:52 mark of the first. Jake Rutt walked in from the left point and fired a shot that hit the post before bouncing in off Connor Hellebuyck’s back. The River Hawks tied the game with a power-play goal of their own late in the second. Wilson held the puck in the right circle before beating Martin Ouellette through a screen. Devin Shore cut Lowell’s lead to 4-2 with 47.1 seconds left in the game, but it was too little too late.
What I saw
-Josh Holmstrom set two perfect screens on Lowell’s first and fourth goals. Both came on the power play, and on both, he had his skates planted just inches outside the crease. The refs actually reviewed the first goal to make sure he hadn’t interfered with Ouellette, but replay showed he avoided contact. On Lowell’s fourth goal, Holmstrom tipped in a Chad Ruhwedel slap shot from the point. Just seconds before that, he had tipped another Ruhwedel slapper off the post. Holmstrom is one of the best in the league at just parking himself right in front of the goalie, and Thursday night was another example of that. Maine coach Tim Whitehead wasn’t as thrilled with Holmstrom’s screens, and said after the game that he thought Holmstrom had interfered with Ouellette.
-The game featured 13 total penalties, and seven of them were stick fouls. Usually when you see lots of penalties in a playoff game, it’s stuff like hitting after the whistle (there were two of those) and roughing (one of that). But to see four trips, two hooks and a slash is pretty rare. The refs could’ve let a couple of them go, but for the most part, they were legitimate calls. Needless to say, neither team was too happy about the lack of discipline. For the River Hawks, this was the second straight game they got into early penalty trouble, which is even harder to comprehend since they’ve taken the second fewest penalties in the league. For Maine, it was two seniors — Joey Diamond and Kyle Beattie — combining for all six penalties.
What I thought
-The River Hawks responded well to Maine’s first goal. They came back with a few strong shifts and started to take control of play heading into the first intermission. They continued to play well 5-on-5 in the second, but two more penalties in the first nine minutes of the period slowed their momentum. The River Hawks kept working, though, and the penalty calls started to swing the other way, as they ended up with three power plays in the period’s final 10 minutes. Wilson scored on one of them to send the game to the third tied 1-1.
-Maine got off to the better start, but Lowell got stronger and stronger as the game went on, and obviously took complete control early in the third. It was hard to really get a good read on the two teams simply because of all the penalties, but if Game 2 plays out like the second half of Game 1, this will be a sweep. Obviously the Black Bears’ No. 1 focus has to be staying out of the box, but they also need to generate more offense. Once the River Hawks settled into the game, stopped taking penalties, and started playing the defense that got them the top seed, Maine struggled to generate quality chances.
What they said
-Lowell coach Norm Bazin: “I thought it was a battle tonight. We didn’t get the start we were looking for. However, we were pretty resilient, and we found a way to get it done in the third period. That’s a great thing for us in terms of game number one in the playoffs. I thought the combination of some young guys never having played in the playoffs, and a little rust, made for the slow start. We’ll have to get better tomorrow, and we know that.”
-Maine coach Tim Whitehead: “Missed opportunity for us. I liked our first period. I liked our composure in the first period and our team defense. We executed with the puck on the power play. Second period, we had a feeling they were going to get some calls, and they did. We had them killed off all the way until that last one, and that was the key play for them. Real heads-up play by Wilson to put that on Marty when he thought he was going to pass.”
-Whitehead on his team’s penalties: “Penalties were the difference. And we’re talking about seniors — Beattie, Diamond. Stick penalties. We can’t afford those. That swung the momentum of the game. They do a great job of putting pucks to the net and crashing the net. I was disappointed obviously with the officials allowing them to park in the crease when Marty’s trying to get out, so I disagree with that. But we need to stay out of the box if we’re going to beat this team, because this team is good. Real good.”
What else you should know
-Lowell goes for the sweep Friday night at 7 p.m.
-The River Hawks remained fourth in the Pairwise with the win.