CHESTNUT HILL, Mass. — Strange? Yes. Ugly? Certainly. An upset in the making? No doubt.
All of that spelled doom for the No. 2 Boston College Eagles, which, on a night when seemingly everything went wrong, fell to 13th-ranked Massachusetts-Lowell, 3-1, at the Conte Forum.
The combination of the River Hawks’ strong defense, limiting BC’s quality chances, and a fire alarm that forced the evacuation of the building between the second and third period and sent most Eagles fans home for the night, sucked almost every ounce of life from BC.
The delay, which occurred during the second intermission and lasted almost 20 minutes, was caused by the Zamboni striking a pipe in the Zamboni room. That automatically triggered the fire alarm and forced security to clear the building.
When the action finally returned, more than half of the 4,809 in attendance did not, and the Eagles faced an uphill climb from a 3-1 deficit without the benefit of crowd noise.
“In my 19 years, I don’t think I’ve had that happen to me before,” said Lowell coach Blaise MacDonald of the delay. “Hockey players just want to play hockey. Really, it affects both teams.”
Once the delay was behind them, the River Hawks played a near-perfect third period to protect the two-goal lead and earn goaltender John Yaros (32 saves), who was a surprise starter, his second straight win since returning from injury.
“Once [Lowell] got the lead late in the game, they went to an 0-5 [forecheck] and they did it very well,” said BC head coach Jerry York.
According to MacDonald, that was part of the strategy playing on the road.
“That’s kind of your M.O. on the road,” said MacDonald of the trap-like strategy his River Hawks employed in the third period. “We’re not here to impress anybody. It’s just 20 guys pulling for each other.”
For the Eagles, the pain of the loss was magnified when Greg Lauze left the game with a dislocated shoulder in the second period. The original injury occurred in the first period, but Lauze and trainer Bert Lenz were able to pop the shoulder back into place during the intermission. Lauze returned but only played a few shifts before once again dislocating the shoulder and leaving the ice in obvious pain.
Lauze is expected to miss two weeks and adds to the long list of injured Eagles. Top defenseman Andrew Alberts (knee), leading forward Patrick Eaves (groin) and goaltender Cory Schneider (knee) are all missing from the BC lineup. None is expected to return for Saturday night’s rematch versus Lowell.
“It seems to have every year,” said BC captain Ryan Shannon. “It’s definitely something we’re used to. Some guys are just going to have to step up.”
The Eagles seemed in good shape early dominating the game’s opening minutes, recording the first 12 shots and getting on the board early. Brian Boyle buried a Shannon rebound at 4:24 after a careless Lowell turnover sent a loose puck to a wide-open Shannon in the slot.
At 9:54, Lowell’s Mark Pandolfo was whistled for a five-minute boarding major when he buried Lauze into the boards to Kaltiainen’s right, dislocating the senior’s shoulder for the first time. The ensuing power play, though, produced little in quality chances for BC and appeared to be the turning point in the period.
At 16:21, while on the power play, Lowell turned the momentum and evened the game. Ben Walter deflected an Elias Godoy shot from the point over the shoulder of BC netminder Matti Kaltiainen (20 saves) for his 25th goal of the season. Walter became the first River Hawk since Greg Bullock in 1994-95 to score 25 goals in a season.
Minutes later, Todd Fletcher was alone on the doorstep to push the rebound of a Godoy shot between the legs of a falling Kaltiainen at 18:56 to give Lowell a 2-1 lead through one.
It marked the first since a November 16 loss at Harvard that the Eagles, who outshot Lowell, 15-4, in the period, gave up two goals in the first.
In the second period, Lowell built on its momentum and extended its lead in the first minute. After Jeremy Hall’s blast from the left point missed on the near side, Jason Tejchma picked up the rebound, which caromed around the net and back out front, and backhanded a shot through Kaltiainen’s legs just 58 seconds into the frame.
Lowell had ample opportunities to extend the lead but Kaltiainen finally settled down.
Late in the period, BC had a chance to draw closer on a power play of its own. Boyle put BC’s best shot on Yaros, beating the goalie over the left shoulder only to see the shot strike the right post, preserving Lowell’s two-goal lead through two.
After the delay, BC returned to the ice in desperation mode but showing little in the way of momentum. The Eagles mustered a few chances, including a Joe Rooney breakaway with 7:40 remaining that Yaros saved with his toe. The puck bounced off the right post.
From there, Lowell allowed little in the way of grade ‘A’ chances and skated away with the upset win.
The River Hawks’ win, combined with a Maine loss at Providence Friday night, allowed the River Hawks to move within three points of the Black Bears for the final home-ice spot in the Hockey East playoffs.
BC failed to take advantage of first-place New Hampshire’s off night. A win would have allowed the Eagles to leapfrog UNH into first place. Instead, the first home ice loss of the year for BC leaves it a point behind UNH and only one point ahead of third-place Boston University.
BC and Lowell rematch Saturday night at the Tsongas Arena in Lowell.