BURLINGTON, Vt. — Massachusetts-Lowell knew it had to win and then get some help from an unlikely source to have a chance to stay in the playoff hunt going into the final day of the season.
The River Hawks upheld their part of the deal, upsetting No. 15 Vermont 2-1 at Gutterson Fieldhouse Friday. But, by virtue of Providence’s 7-2 thumping of Merrimack, UML is eliminated from playoff contention.
The loss for Vermont (17-14-4, 12-10-4 Hockey East) also ended its hopes of getting home ice in the Hockey East playoffs. The Catamounts had to sweep Lowell and hope Massachusetts and Maine would split their series in Amherst, Mass.
In his first start in just under two months, freshman goaltender Carter Hutton recorded 29 saves for the win. Senior Jeremy Hall and freshman Kory Falite scored for Lowell (8-21-6, 7-16-3).
“Our defense did a good job and our forwards of giving [Hutton] clear shooting lanes to see the puck,” said UML coach Blaise MacDonald of his netminder, who, because of a knee injury, last started against Maine on Jan. 6. “For having his first start in over two months, I’d say that’s more than we were expecting.”
Vermont started fast, opening the first period with a flurry in front of the Lowell net that was stopped by Hutton. UML turned it right back the other way and made UVM pay with a goal in the first half minute of play.
Hall converted a cross-crease turnaround pass from Jason Tejchma, beating Joe Fallon (18 saves), who had no chance on the play. Mike Potacco also assisted on Hall’s eighth.
Vermont evened the game at 13:12. Torrey Mitchell found Peter Lenes in the slot. Lenes put the puck past Hutton’s glove.
Vermont seemed to hit its stride in the second, and even looked poised to take the game over for a stretch in the middle stanza. Hutton made some good saves to preserve the tie, including no fewer than fours stops from the slot.
“Vermont does so many little things in the game, so well,” said MacDonald. “They’re a tremendous face-off team, and, in the second period, we lost a lot faceoffs. They have a lot different plays that they run, and that gave them some momentum. But we kind of just worried about ourselves and our effort, executing our systems and respecting our opponent.”
The pesky River Hawks retook the lead at 8:50 when Kory Falite received a pass from Ben Holmstrom and put it past Fallon from left of the crease.
“We gave up two lay-up goals tonight,” said an aggravated UVM coach Kevin Sneddon. “We left a guy wide open in the front of the net twice and that’s not playoff hockey, so that’s the thing that’s frustrating and disappointing because this time of year, you can’t have those breakdowns.”
Despite relinquishing the lead for the second time, the Cats had a 13-8 advantage in shots on goal in the period.
Lowell had a couple of good opportunities to strengthen its hold on the game in the third period. Hall hit the crossbar from the left circle and with less than nine minutes on the clock, Potacco banged one off the side of cage from the left when Fallon juggled a rebound.
Vermont still outshot Lowell 8-4 in the period and 30-20 in the game.
“We had our chances,” said Sneddon, “but if you’re going to think that I’m happy with the way we played, you’re very wrong.
“Our go-to players were not our go-to players tonight, and we had a bunch of freshmen looking for answers and [they] didn’t have anybody to look to tonight,” he said. So that was the difference to me.”
For Lowell, a team that regularly plays no fewer than 11 freshmen, missing the playoffs is disappointing, but it is slowly but surely making progress.
“We can’t control [what happens regarding the playoffs], but we’ve got a young team. We’re trying to build to the future. . . . To come up here and have success on a Friday night, we can build on that. Playoffs are not in our control right now, but how we play is.”
If both Massachusetts and Vermont win Saturday, the Catamounts would finish fifth in Hockey East. All other scenarios have UVM ending the regular season in sixth place.