LOWELL, Mass. — Minnesota-Duluth put its stake in the ground as a contender in the national picture Saturday night, completing a two-game sweep of No. 15 Mass.-Lowell, 4-1, at Lowell’s Tsongas Arena.
The No. 19 Bulldogs stymied the River Hawks’ offense in both games, allowing just a single goal. Much of that could be credited to the outstanding goaltending of Alex Stalock (23 saves). The lone goal that the sophomore netminder allowed on the weekend came when he was caught out of his net in the right corner after a failed clearing attempt.
“We haven’t won a lot of road games, so it’s nice to get a couple of wins here on the road,” said Bulldogs’ coach Scott Sandelin. “I didn’t like to see us give up [Lowell's only goal by Patrick Cey] because I thought Alex deserved another shutout. I thought he played great tonight.”
Special teams, particularly the penalty kill for the Bulldogs, played a key role on the weekend. After killing all seven Lowell power plays in Friday’s 1-0 series-opening victory, Duluth held the Lowell power play off the board on an additional seven chances on Saturday, including a key five-on-three man advantage that lasted 1 minute, 48 seconds in the second period.
“I thought the five-on-three kill was big for us,” said Sandelin. “We’re up 2-0 and things could’ve changed there.”
“We got some good looks early on the power play,” said Lowell coach Blaise MacDonald. “But on that five-on-three, we were totally ineffective and it sucked a lot of energy from us and it was just an uphill climb from there.”
For the second straight night, the Bulldogs scored early, this time netting two goals in a span of only 20 seconds in the opening period.
Fourth-line winger Kyle Schmidt scored just his second goal of his rookie season, burying a cross-the-slot feed from Trent Palm at 11:47.
On the ensuing faceoff, Duluth got the puck deep in the Lowell zone and a bouncing puck landed on the stick of captain Matt McKnight, who turned and fired quick shot that seemed to surprise Lowell goaltender Nevin Hamilton (16 saves), beating the sophomore netminder between the legs for a 2-0 Bulldogs’ lead.
Though the period ended almost even in shots, Lowell holding a 7-6 advantage, it was quality opportunities that were remarkably different. All six of Duluth’s shots came from the grade ‘A’ area, as opposed to only two of the River Hawks’ chances.
Neither team could score in the second period, despite Lowell’s extended five-on-three power play. Bulldogs’ penalties just 12 seconds apart gave Lowell its best chance of the game to snap the shutout streak, but struggles winning offensive zone faceoffs and the inability to keep pucks in at the point spoiled the opportunity.
The Bulldogs added to their lead in the third when Andrew Carroll scored twice at 3:12 and 5:34, his fifth and sixth goals of the season, both goals coming off effective UMD forechecks. Sandwiched in between was Cey’s goal, his fourth of the season, at 3:49.
“The forecheck was consistent and we did a good job there and it led to two goals,” said Sandelin. “But you still have to bury it and [Carroll] had the first one squeak through and the second one he made a great move.”
The victory improved Minnesota-Duluth to 10-8-6 overall and is likely to give them a bump in the national polls on Monday.
Lowell, on the other hand, has lost three of four and five of its last seven, falling to 11-8-4 on the season. It finished a four-game stretch at home against nationally ranked opponents with a 1-3-0 record.
“When you’re in our situation, there are no easy games,” said MacDonald. “Every game you need to have really high alert and awareness and great preparation.
“Last week’s practices were awful and that factors into the poor weekend [this weekend] for sure.”