LOWELL, Mass. — The Providence Friars were literally seconds away from a much better outcome in Saturdays 3-2 overtime loss to the No. 13 Mass.-Lowell River Hawks.
Providence gave up two goals in the final second of a period, one at the buzzer of the second that knotted the game at two and the game-winning goal with 1.3 seconds remaining in overtime to snatch defeat directly from the jaws of victory.
Needless to say, Providence coach Tim Army was frustrated after the game to not have taken at least three-out-of-four points from the River Hawks.
“I’m disgusted because we should’ve certainly taken three out of four points,” said Army. “I thought we outplayed [Lowell] and we made a couple of key mistakes.”
On the other side of the rink, River Hawks’ coach Blaise MacDonald was wiping sweat off his brow, realizing his team narrowly escaped an ugly weekend.
“Sometimes you get a little puck luck to go your way in the way of redemption,” said MacDonald, noting that his team missed on an opportunity earlier in the season to beat Providence, missing an open net in the closing seconds of a 2-2 tie.
The game-winning goal came off the stick of Lowell rookie Scott Campbell, easily the best player on the ice for the River Hawks all weekend. The puck was in the left corner of the Lowell offensive zone with about seven seconds remaining and Mike Potacco fired it to the front of the net, where Mark Roebothan fired it cross-crease to a waiting Campbell.
The rookie mishandled the puck, firing it just wide, but was able to compose himself, bring it back in front of the net and stuff it past Providence goalie Tyler Sims (27 saves) before time expired to send the sparse crowd of 2,071 into pandemonium.
“I knew the clock was going down but I didn’t know there was only 1.3 seconds left,” said Campbell. “When I turned back and looked up I was kind of relieved. I would’ve been down on myself if I’d have missed that first one and wasn’t able to pull back and tuck it in [in time].”
The game, which was rescheduled to 4 p.m. because the New England Patriots are playing in the AFC playoffs Saturday at 8 p.m., not ironically was just the second penalty-free game in the 24 year history of Hockey East. The other game, a midweek contest between Massachusetts and Boston College, won 4-3 in overtime by the Eagles, was also officiated by Saturdays referee Tim Benedetto.
The River Hawks got on the board early, as Potacco buried his sixth goal of the season, firing a random backhander with his back to the net over the shoulder of Sims at 4:41.
Just as they did multiple times in Friday’s game, Providence answered. Joe Lavin’s shot from the point tipped off of Jon Rheault at the left post and landed on the blade of rookie Ian O’Connor, who roofed a shot over a sprawled Nevin Hamilton (45 saves) for his second goal of the season at 7:03 to knot the game at one.
Both teams had quality chances throughout the period, but the goaltenders held their ground. The best bid came from the stick of Lowell’s Patrick Cey, who appeared to have a wide open net only to have Sims slide across to rob him with a glove save.
Nick Mazzolini was able to give the Friars their first lead of the game at 8:21. Providence forced a turnover high in the Lowell zone, and Kyle Laughlin fired a cross-ice pass to Mazzolini, who beat Hamilton short side.
It appeared that lead would hold up heading to the third, but a controversial goal by Lowell’s Kory Falite as time expired knotted the game at two. Providence turned the puck over at the offensive blue line, allowing Lowell to skate three-on-two in the waning seconds. Cey fired a shot that Sims saved, but the rebound hit Falite’s chest and bounded into the net as time expired.
Tim Army would argue the call with Benedetto for several minutes to no avail, sending the game to the second intermission tied at two.
The late goal didn’t hurt Providence’s momentum, as the Friars controlled play throughout the third period, outshooting the River Hawks 17-7. However, neither team could capitalize, sending the game to overtime, the third OT contest between the clubs this season.
Throughout the extra frame, Providence controlled the play and actually had the puck deep in the Lowell zone with just a half minute remaining, but Lowell’s play-to-the-buzzer mentality worked again in their favor and earned the victory. The win pushed Lowell to the 10-win plateau (10-5-4, 5-5-4 Hockey East), while Providence drops to 8-9-2 (5-4-2 Hockey East).
Lowell remains at home for two games next weekend against Boston College on Friday and Massachusetts on Saturday, while Providence will play two home games next weekend against Massachusetts on Friday and Maine on Saturday.