BURLINGTON, Vt. — In the first period of Saturday’s regular-season-closing contest, it could have been hard to tell which team was battling for playoff position and which was just playing out the string, having been eliminated from contention.
Massachusetts-Lowell built a 2-0 lead in the opening period, only to have it wiped away in the second by No. 15 Vermont, which itself couldn’t hold, settling for a 3-3 tie.
Vermont (17-14-5, 12-10-5 Hockey East) made defensive mistakes, which led to all three Lowell (8-21-7, 6-17-4) goals, and allowed the River Hawks to come away from Gutterson Fieldhouse with a three-point weekend.
“I think it was pretty plain to see we made three huge mistakes that ended up in the back of our net,” said UVM coach Kevin Sneddon. “We’ve got to correct that, if we want our season to go on [past next weekend]. The positive, obviously, is that we dug ourselves a hole, and we dug ourselves out of it.
“Those huge defensive mistakes are obviously not going to do a team any good, this time of year.”
The River Hawks outplayed the Catamounts in the first 20 minutes to the point where Vermont was lucky to go into the second only down 2-0.
Just seconds after Mike Spillane (16 saves) made a stellar pad save on Jason Bergereon in front, Lowell opened the scoring at the 2:35 mark. Mike Potacco got behind the UVM defense and beat Spillane high to the stick side. J.R. Bria started the play, getting the assist on Potacco’s fifth of the season.
“When we give up goals early on in the game, it really, really puts us behind the eight-ball, just from a momentum standpoint, especially in your own building,” Sneddon said. “That’s three or four games that that’s happened.”
Lowell added to its lead at 13:23. Nick Shaus sent a pass to the front of the net that Mark Roebothan put past Spillane.
“I thought we came out in the first period, played very well,” said UML coach Blaise MacDonald. “2-0 could’ve been 4-0 but we just didn’t convert our couple of key chances.”
Vermont stormed back with three unanswered goals in the second to take a one-goal lead by intermission.
Defenseman Mark Lutz got UVM on the board on the power play at 1:20. Lutz’s wrist shot from the top of the right circle beat UML’s Carter Hutton (26 saves) top shelf. Corey Carlson fed Lutz for his second of the season and second in as many weeks.
Less than two minutes after that, the Cats struck again. Dean Strong shoveled the puck to the net from left, and, after a scramble, Peter Lenes found the back of the net. Lenes’ sixth of the season was also assisted by Torrey Mitchell and came at 3:07.
The River Hawks were awarded 33 seconds of a five-on-three at 10:09, when, with Strong already in the box, Colin Vock went off for contact to the head.
The Vermont penalty killers did their job, and nullified the opportunity.
Brian Roloff gave the Cats the lead at 13:45. Roloff poked home a rebound of an Evan Stoflet point shot.
Vermont had a commanding 11-3 advantage in shots on goal in the period.
With 15:20 left in the third Lowell’s Barry Goers rang the post from above the left faceoff circle
Then a few minutes later, at the end of a long shift for UVM, freshman defenseman Patrick Cullity fanned on the puck attempting to make a breakout pass and the River Hawks made him pay.
Frank Stegnar picked it up at the blue line and fed Chris Auger for the tying goal at 8:43.
“I liked the way our young team regrouped,” MacDonald said. “It’s 3-2 playing in a hostile environment, and I thought we came out and played very well in the third period. … Three-of-four points on the road here, it’s a good weekend for us.”
At the 4:05 mark of the ensuing overtime, the teams — two of the least penalized in the country — were assessed a total of 104 minutes for a single incident after the whistle. Two game, and six 10-minute misconducts were handed out.
“The nice part is, is that the season is over, and I think we have to a good job as a staff, and certainly a good job as a team of realizing that nothing else matters right now,” said Sneddon.
“I am just concerned [about] the major mistakes,” he continued. “That to me is just a lack of focus. It’s not a lack of ability back there, it’s just a lack of focus, and, again, it really does boil down to them right now. … We’ve got some decisions to make, obviously, in terms of lineup, and what we’re going to do back there, because we’ve got to try to keep this thing going.”
The Catamounts will try to keep the season going on, starting on Thursday, when they begin their quarterfinal series at Boston University.