DURHAM, N.H. — Jeff Boulanger scored both River Hawks goals, including the game-winner at 8:35 of the third period, to send UMass-Lowell to the Fleet Center for the first time since 1998 with a 2-1 victory over New Hampshire in Game 3 of a Hockey East series on Saturday.
In a great individual effort, Boulanger skated from behind the net out to Ty Conklin’s right, faked a defender down, continued up to the high slot, and wristed a shot through a screen that hit Conklin’s glove, and trickled into the net.
“I had no idea it went in,” said Boulanger. “I worked hard behind the net. I went to the front of the net, and just shot it at the net, and hoped it went in. It went in.”
New Hampshire (21-12-6) had several chances to tie it up late, the best coming at the hands of Josh Prudden. With just over four minutes in the game, Prudden picked off a clearing pass just inside the Lowell (19-15-3) zone, skated in, banked a shot off of a defender, picked up the puck and was alone on goalie Jimi St. John.
Prudden’s shot at St. John was kicked aside, and trickled just off the left post, and the 2-1 lead was preserved.
“It was an ugly game,” said River Hawks coach Tim Whitehead. “Of the three games this weekend, it was certainly the ugliest, which is not surprising, being the third game in three nights.
“I’m just real happy for our guys that they stuck it out and found a way to win. I know we can play better, and UNH can play better. We had some crazy shifts at the end, and our guys stuck it out, and found a way to win and get to the Fleet Center.”
For the second night in a row, New Hampshire got on the board first.
With an extra skater on the ice due to a delayed River Hawks penalty, Nathan Martz passed the puck from the corner to St. John’s left all the way to Matt Swain in the slot to St. John’s right. Swain collected the puck and slid a shot under a sliding St. John giving the Wildcats a 1-0 lead at 15:55 of the first period.
The lead lasted just 22 seconds, as Boulanger tied up the game with his first goal on the night.
Carso fed a pass towards the crease from behind the goal line to Conklin’s left. The puck was deflected by Sionina to Boulanger in the slot to Conklin’s right. Boulanger’s shot found the back of the net and the game was tied 1-0.
The 1-1 tie remained until Boulanger netted the game winner in the third period.
“The difference [between not making the playoffs last year, and making it to the Fleet Center this year] is last wear we didn’t have the mindset that we belonged at the Fleet Center,” said defenseman Ron Hainsey.
“This year, all year, we thought, even after the poor start, we had the mindset that we were going to the Fleet Center and we were going to make some noise. We started off slow, but God knows where we would have been if we had gotten a couple of those early games against Merrimack and Amherst, we would have been playing these games at home.”
“I liked the way our team came out and competed hard,” said New Hampshire coach Dick Umile. “Obviously, I’m disappointed that we lost the series, and I congratulate Lowell in winning the series.
“St. John played great. Both goalies played very, very well all series.
Goal scoring was at a premium. They got two and we got one.”
St. John stood tall again, making 30 saves, while Conklin, in his last game at the Whittemore Center, made 18.
The River Hawks will face either Boston College or Maine in the semifinals Friday at the Fleet Center. The Wildcats still have a slight chance at making the NCAA Tournament.