BOSTON — The seniors were honored. The game had come and gone. Vociferous crowds had exchanged pleasantries.
The buzz of the fluorescent lighting in Matthews Arena was the only sound left at 10:15 p.m. Then, without warning, the lights fell silent and the old hockey arena went dark. It would be another year before the lights of Matthews would shine down on Northeastern men’s hockey, thanks to UMass-Lowell.
With a 4-1 victory, Lowell (19-11-4, 11-9-3 HEA) secured the final home Hockey East playoff spot, propelled by Peter Hay’s game-winning goal at 16:58 of the second period.
Mark Concannon scored two goals and Steve Slonina added a goal and an assist for Lowell. Trevory Reschny scored Northeastern’s (17-15-3, 10-11-2) lone goal.
“I thought it was a playoff atmosphere and a great game tonight,” said UMass-Lowell coach Blaise MacDonalad. “Obviously, a huge, huge game, home ice on the line and the consequences that we there, I thought or guys responded.”
“If anyone had told me that home ice in the playoffs would have come down to this 60-minute hockey game, I would have liked our chances,” said Northeastern coach Bruce Crowder. “We just couldn’t get it done tonight.”
The opening minutes of the first period saw chances from both squads. In a game where two of the top goaltenders in the league would go head to head (Jimi St. John of UMass Lowell and Keni Gibson of Northeastern), any bid by either team would have to be a quality chance to beat either of the netminders.
After 13 minutes of play, Gibson made a spectacular save after Concannon blistered a slap shot over a sliding defensman. Gibson had the shot lined up but the puck deflected off the sliding defenseman and he had to react to make an awkward save.
St. John was seriously tested at the 18-minute mark when a puck bounced off the end boards, into the slot, with Mike Ryan and Jason Guerriero all alone in front of the crease. A series of pinball-like passes between the two Huskies, managed to only find a set of stacked St. John pads.
In a wild, back and fourth period, the two teams failed to score. The period showcased the goaltenders and it was clear that both teams came to play.
“St. John was immense when he had to be. He looked like the goalie who took Lowell on that magical run last year,”said MacDonald.
The second period was all Lowell. In every facet it controlled play, beating Northeastern to loose pucks, out-hustling its opponent and physically controlling the corner. An 18-10 shot differential in favor of Lowell was a clear indication of the pressure.
“The second period was really the difference for us tonight,” said MacDonald. “We had a lot of jump and our spacing was really good and we were able to jump ahead.”
“The guys played great in front of me tonight,” said St. John. “They kept the [Northeastern] guys in the corners and really wore them out which made things easier for me.”
At 2:24 of the first period, Lowell capitalized on its first power-play chance. A slapshot from Chris Gustafson was tipped past Gibson, by Steve Slonina for the goal.
The River Hawks controlled physical play and kept Northeastern out of their offensive zone. For about 10 minutes, Lowell was outshooting Northeastern, 10 0.
“We studied a lot of tape coming into this game,” said St. John. “We knew where they were going to dump and we played to their style. Coach [MacDonald] really prepared us for this game and that was the difference for us.”
Northeastern was forced on the penalty kill again at 16:14 and Lowell found the back of the net for the second time, as a puck off of a Laurent Meunier slapshot sat on the goal line before being buried by Hay as he came crashing to the net. The power-play goal proved to be the game winner.
“Having Laurent Meunier out there this year has really been the difference maker for us this season,” said MacDonald. “Tonight was a great example of his abilities.”
Despite being outplayed for most of the period, Northeastern bounced back at 17:35 when Trevor Reschny settled a puck in front of St. John and put the puck past him to make it 2-1.
The period ended with Lowell on top, 2-1.
The momentum in the third period starting to favor Northeastern until Lowell put the home crowd in their seats with its third goal of the game at 5:59. Concannon split a pair of defenders and went in alone on Gibson for the tally.
“It feels good to get some goals in such a big game,” said Concannon. “Deep down all the guys knew that we were going to get home ice, tonight we were able to get it done.”
Northeastern got its first power play opportunity of the evening at the 10-minute mark of the third period with Nikas Strom in the box for cross-checking. Northeastern’s Willie Levesque had the best chance on the advantage, but only managed to find the post.
Lowell all but sealed its victory at 18:17 with a 2-on-0 breakaway that was put home by Concannon for his second tally of the evening. Slonina and Concannon came in on the break after Northeastern’s Tim Judy fell while bringing the puck into the neutral zone. Slonina fired the shot, and Concannon put it home.
“Concannon is a guy who is like a golfer who keeps on three-putting,” said MacDonald. “He’s been struggling all season and he got a few good chances tonight and scored some goals.”
Northeastern will travel to Merrimack (10-20-2, 5-15-2) on Friday for its last regular-season game, while Lowell faces Providence (13-17-5, 8-12-3) at home.