LOWELL, Mass. — UMass-Lowell went into the game figuring that it had to win the first and last two minutes of each period and also keep New Hampshire’s top line under control.
The River Hawks achieved neither as Darren Haydar, Sean Collins and David Busch collaborated for 10 points, including two goals by Collins to break open the game at the start of the third period.
“We played a very good hockey team tonight,” said UML coach Blaise MacDonald. “They seemed solid in all areas, including their goaltender [Matt Carney], which was obviously a question mark. And they’re exceptional on special teams. That’s a pretty good combination. They’re certainly worthy of their national position.”
Seventh-ranked New Hampshire (4-1-2, 3-0-2 HEA) stayed atop Hockey East while No. 11 Lowell (4-2-0, 2-2-0) suffered its second straight loss. The two teams face off again on Saturday at the Whittemore Center.
After taking a 1-0 lead in the first period, UNH had to survive a second stanza in which it was outshot 14-3. Leading 2-1 going into the third, the Wildcats then capitalized on Collins’ goals at 1:28 and 1:51 to put the game out of reach.
Throughout the game, the Haydar, Collins and Busch line was a concern, from Haydar’s first and second-period goals to Collins’ third period backbreakers.
“The three of us have been working pretty well [together],” said Busch. “Obviously Darren and Sean are really good goalscorers. I’ve just been trying to get the puck to them and they’ve been putting it in the net. They’re getting open and I’m just feeding them the puck.”
UNH finished an up-tempo first period with a 1-0 lead off an 18-8 shot advantage. That statistical disparity, however, belied the quality opportunities that Lowell also generated on the counterattack.
The River Hawks opened the game with a glittering chance off a Peter Hay shot, but Carney stoned Tom Rouleau at the doorstep on the rebound.
The Wildcats drew first blood at 3:16 when defenseman Garrett Stafford carried the puck behind the Lowell net and centered it in front. It deflected past goaltender Jimi St. John and was eventually credited to Haydar.
Two minutes later on the power play, Rouleau threatened on another rebound, but couldn’t capitalize. UNH got the next two man advantages, generating a very strong chance by Lanny Gare to St. John’s right.
The grade-A opportunities came fast and furious near the end of the period. Tyler Scott sent Steve Saviano in alone, but St. John made the save. Rouleau countered by sending in Hay.
As the period drew to a close, Dan Fontas and Steve Slonina broke on a three-on-one, but Carney made the save on Fontas’ shot.
Lowell dominated the second-period shots, 14-2, but could only get back to within one after Haydar gave the Wildcats a 2-0 lead on the power play. Busch shot from the right circle after a Collins pass from the corner and the rebound caromed right to Haydar in front, where he knocked it into the open net.
Lowell then went on three straight power plays, but midway through the second appeared to be unable to break through UNH’s tight penalty-killing box. The River Hawks controlled the puck in the zone, but were able only to move it around the perimeter without generating any significant opportunities.
“We weren’t getting to the puck quick enough and we weren’t winning the loose pucks,” said Ed McGrane. “Any power play, five guys have to outwork their four. I don’t think we did a real good job of that tonight.”
Nonetheless, a Rouleau tip of a Hay shot on the second of the three advantages did draw the River Hawks to within one.
That lasted only as long as the opening two minutes of the third, when Collins struck. The first came on the power play when Busch sprung him for a breakaway. The real backbreaker, though, came just 23 seconds later when Collins deflected Busch’s feed from the right boards.
McGrane drew Lowell back into striking range with a goal at 3:28, but Saviano’s unassisted goal at 16:52 ended all Lowell hopes of a comeback.