DURHAM, N.H. — New Hampshire grabbed a two-goal lead in the first period and then weathered a see-saw third frame to emerge with a 4-3 win over Mass.-Lowell. Colin Hemingway scored twice while Lanny Gare contributed three assists. Goaltender Mike Ayers stopped 31 shots, including 16 in the third period.
The Wildcats took advantage of sub-par Lowell goaltending to counter a three-goal deficit on special teams. The River Hawks scored on three-of-seven power plays while blanking UNH on its four man advantages.
New Hampshire (4-1-2, 2-1-1 HEA) outshot Lowell, 26-16, through two periods, but held only a 2-1 lead going into a third period in which the visitors would outshoot the Wildcats, 18-8.
“We probably played for two periods and let them back into the game,” said UNH coach Dick Umile. “Give them credit for battling back. They put the heat on us in the third period. Between the penalties we got and them beating us down low, we were playing on our heels at the end. But the bottom line is that we won the game.”
Lowell (4-4-0, 0-3-0 HEA) converted two-goal deficits to singletons three times, but couldn’t draw even with the third-ranked Wildcats.
“It’s a story we’ve seen before from our side of the puck,” said UML coach Blaise MacDonald. “We played very well against an outstanding team and created some of our own problems and overcame some of our own problems. Certainly all year we’ve shown no quit despite some very difficult circumstances presented by the skill level of our opponents.
“UNH is just an awesome team. They are so dangerous. They do so many things well and so many things you can’t teach that it puts us up against it. We have a very slim margin of error defensively to try to stop their rushes, counterattacks and opportunities.”
Despite the tough loss, MacDonald maintained a sense of humor. The diminutive coach said, “A lot of the goals I didn’t see because my kids were standing up on the bench and I can’t see over their heads.”
UNH grabbed control in the first period, combining a fluke goal with a shorthanded one to seize a 2-0 lead. The first came at 2:55 when Nathan Martz centered the puck from the low right boards only to see it inadvertently redirected into the net by Lowell defenseman Darryl Green.
The second tally came in a more conventional UNH fashion: off the transition. On the penalty kill, Colin Hemingway collected the puck at center ice and raced off on a breakaway. Lowell goaltender Chris Davidson got his glove on the shot, but it still broke off and into the net.
The Wildcats had two great chances to break the game open in the minutes surrounding the first intermission, but clanged iron both times. With 15 seconds left in the first period, Kevin Truelson rang a shot off the crossbar. A minute and a half into the second, Lanny Gare hit the post while on the power play.
Having bent, but not broken, the River Hawks edged back into the game in the second period despite being outattempted, 19-9, and outshot, 9-4. A Marc Concannon redirection provided them with their best opportunity at the four-minute mark and one minute later Ed McGrane hit paydirt on the power play. Carrying the puck into the slot, the senior captain quick-released a shot using the defenseman as a screen and beat goaltender Mike Ayers five-hole.
The goal not only brought Lowell within striking distance, but also extended McGrane’s scoring streak to 14 games, a mark that dates back to Feb. 27.
UNH had a golden opportunity to reestablish its two-goal lead in the middle of the period, but couldn’t capitalize on a 52-second five-on-three man advantage.
It did so in the opening minutes of the third period, however, off a three-on-two. Steve Saviano dropped a pass back to Mike Lubesnick, who beat Davidson with a low shot.
At 8:11, Lowell got back to within one off a rocket from the point by Peter Hay, who minutes earlier had been stymied at the doorstep. The power-play goal was Hay’s fourth of the season, moving him into second place overall within Hockey East.
The see-saw on the scoreboard continued when Hemingway beat Davidson top shelf from a sharp angle to make it 4-2. Arguably the softest of the goals allowed, this one would eventually come back to haunt the River Hawks.
Lowell’s Danny O’Brien narrowed the gap to one at 13:41, beating Ayers short side off a faceoff. The River Hawks then mounted some furious pressure, including an O’Brien breakaway, but Ayers made all the stops to preserve the win.
The two teams face each other on Saturday night at Lowell in the back end of a home-and-home series.