DURHAM, N.H. — Trailing 1-0 late in the third period and facing elimination, UMass-Lowell used two goals in the final 5:52 of the third period to stay alive in its best-of-three Hockey East quarterfinal series with New Hampshire.
“Tonight both goaltenders were so sharp,” said UMass-Lowell head coach Tim Whitehead. “The goals were not going to come easy, and it was important not to get frustrated. The guys kept going to the net, and getting the opportunities, and fortunately the dam broke at the end there. It was a good hockey game.”
With Lanny Gare in the box for tripping, UMass-Lowell (18-15-3) took advantage of its fourth man advantage on the night. Ed McGrane redirected a pass by Tom Rouleau past Ty Conklin, evening the game 1-1 at 14:08 of the third period.
“What happened was, [Rouleau] came across the net, and he saw the defenseman come out,” said McGrane. “He told me he’d seen me in front of the net, and he just kind of cradled a little pass, and I just deflected it. It was one of those lucky things where you just look around, and it’s in the net.”
The River Hawks carried the momentum of the tying goal into the final moments of the period, and capitalized on a turnover by New Hampshire (21-11-6) in its own zone, grabbing the lead for good at 18:33.
Mike Lubesnick turned the puck over in the zone, and Brad Rooney found Peter Hay in front. Hay quickly roofed a shot past Conklin’s glove, and the River Hawks hung on for the 2-1 victory.
“Rooney was fighting off a check, and I thought he was going to shoot it on Conklin,” said Hay. “He slid it over to me and I roofed it, with Conklin in there, I didn’t have much time to shoot it. He had the left side covered, so I had to go right side.”
Hay had mononucleosis last year, and this year had sat out much of the season due to a preseason injury. The goal was his second in the series.
“Peter’s coming on at the right time,” said Whitehead. “He’s worked very hard, he got off to a slow start, but he’s really deserved the ice time he’s gotten recently. I’m very happy for him, to see him get the game-winning goal.”
The first period saw the each goalie made terrific saves, the best was possibly a point-blank save by Conklin on McGrane about seven minutes in. New Hampshire outshot UMass-Lowell 10-5, but the River Hawks did a good job keeping play along the boards.
New Hampshire broke the scoreless tie at 2:30 of the second period on great forechecking by Johnny Rogers and Corey-Joe Ficek. Ficek picked off a clearing pass along the left wing boards, and skated in on Jimi St. John. St. John slid and made a great save, but left the puck in the crease, where Rogers poked it into the empty net giving the Wildcats a 1-0 lead.
The Wildcats had a chance to double the lead midway through the period when Mick Mounsey rushed up the right wing, and fed David Busch in front. Busch was stoned by St. John’s spectacular pad save.
Each team traded opportunities, and the shots were even 11-11 in the second period.
New Hampshire, outshot UMass-Lowell 13-9 in the third period, but again, failed to hold a third period lead, and on the strength of St. John’s 33 saves, the River Hawks made sure that there would be a third and deciding game Saturday night.
“Everybody knows that Conklin is the guy to go against in the league,” said St. John. “I just tried to match him save for save, and hopefully pull it out.
“Going into the third period, going up against Conklin, who’s probably the best goalie in the league, you hope you get that bounce, and fortunately we got ‘em.”
“Jimi and Ty were both very solid at both ends,” said Whitehead. “It was the type of game where one goal was going to tie it up, so we were right in the game, guys kept working hard, they didn’t get frustrated. The guys knew going into the third period the game was still up for grabs. They worked hard and got the opportunities.”
“Obviously, it was a tough last seven minutes,” said Wildcat head coach Dick Umile. “No excuses, I’m just real disappointed at what happened at the end. We did a good job killing off penalties last night. Tonight they got an opportunity, they found a way to make a play. From that point on, it was even, and we just made a bad mistake.”
“I told the team I’m disappointed. We have to come out tomorrow, and the winner goes on. Simple as that. We had an opportunity to win it, and we didn’t get it done. We have to move on to tomorrow night. We had chances to put the game away early, and we were back on our heels the last ten minutes.”
“Lowell’s a good team. The score was 1-0, so there was no reason for them to give up. They were scrappin’. We got that penalty with four or five minutes to go; that’s a huge opportunity and they executed on it, and then it was 1-1, so it was anybody’s game. They hung in there and played well. We had some chances early, and St. John made some big saves or we could have gotten a couple of goals, especially in the second period.
The win ended the River Hawks’ 11-game winless streak against the Wildcats.
The Saturday game will be broadcast live on Fox Sports New England.
(See also: The Season in a Microcosm)