PROVIDENCE, R.I. — After a hard-fought 4-3 win at UMass-Lowell on Thursday, the Providence Friars looked to wrap up their surprisingly successful season at Schneider Arena with a sweep of the River Hawks on Friday night.
PC accomplished the task with a 2-1 victory thanks to excellent play from its seniors — most notably defenseman Jay Leach and goaltender Boyd Ballard, who made 32 saves in helping raise the Friars’ regular-season home record to 13-3-1.
After lighting the lamp twice in the first 6:39, the Friars went scoreless for the remainder of regulation and were tested by a resilient Lowell squad that was kept in the contest by strong play from goaltender Jimi St. John.
Despite an intense battle at the Tsongas Arena on Thursday, the Friars felt no after-effects and came out a step ahead of Lowell, peppering St.
John with a flurry of shots right from the opening faceoff.
PC cycled the puck in the River Hawk zone throughout the opening minutes of the game, and ultimately forced Lowell’s Ken Farrell to take a hooking penalty.
After carrying the puck up ice, PC’s Devin Rask and Jay Leach passed it around the point before sending it down low for Peter Fregoe. The Friar center then tipped a shot past St. John to collect his 14th goal of the season at 3:37.
PC, however, wasn’t done yet, and kept the pressure on St. John.
Once again keeping Lowell pinned in its zone, Rask took a pass from Sean Weiman from the far right point and found an uncovered Drew Omicioli standing to the left of the River Hawk net.
Omicioli had no problem redirecting Rask’s pass past St. John, giving the Friars a 2-0 lead just 6:39 into the first period.
The Friars had more chances on St. John — with Omicoli missing an empty net on a similar play several minutes later — but the River Hawks stabilized themselves and eventually collected a handful of shots on PC’s Boyd Ballard before the period concluded. Nevertheless, it took the River Hawks nearly seven minutes to get their first shot on Ballard.
St. John also looked more comfortable in net as the contest progressed.
PC had a pair of breakaways on St. John in the second period, but the Lowell netminder made excellent saves on Doug Wright and Drew Omicioli to keep the River Hawks in the game.
The River Hawks were able to break through at 7:22 on an odd-man rush. Laurent Meunier sent a pass ahead for Ed McGrane, who rushed over the Friar blue line and sent a shot from the left point that found its way between Ballard’s pads.
The goal cut the PC lead to 2-1, and the River Hawks outshot the Friars 16-11 in the second period, generally outplaying their rivals in the process.
The game was a tough, hard-checking affair, but both teams seemed a bit fatigued following five periods of hockey over the two nights when the game entered the third period. Both teams, however, had their chances in the third period, and were equally denied by St. John and Ballard.
St. John made a sensational glove save as Jon DiSalvatore sent a crossing pass over to Matt Libby midway through the period. Libby was alone, camped out in front of the Lowell net, but St. John sprawled to his right to deny the Friars an insurance goal.
The River Hawks, in the end, could not solve Ballard, and time ultimately expired in a tense 2-1 PC victory that felt in every way like a playoff game.
After the contest, PC coach Paul Pooley downplayed the atmosphere of the contest, but felt satisfied with his team’s performance.
“I honestly didn’t think either team was ready to play for 60 minutes tonight. They didn’t, we started, and they took it over. That’s the feel I had,” said Pooley.
“We took some unnecessary penalties but it was a physical game. It was a good win. They’re a good hockey club. I thought, early on, we were doing a good job [outplaying them] and we left them off the hook a little bit. Ballard played well, St. John had confidence, and it wasn’t pretty, but we found a way to win.”
With the victory, the Friars are now four points ahead of UNH in sole possession of second place, and are just a point behind first-place BC.
The Eagles still have a game in hand on the Friars.
PC (13-6-3, 19-8-5 overall) will now travel to Orono, Maine, for a two-game series with the Black Bears, hoping to break its 12-year losing streak at Alfond Arena.
UMass-Lowell (9-11-3, 16-14-3 overall) fell into a tie with BU for fifth place in Hockey East, with the Terriers holding a pair of games in hand. The River Hawks conclude their season at Northeastern next Saturday.