LOWELL, Mass. — The Mass.-Lowell River Hawks exploded for four third-period goals that broke a 2-2 tie to knock off the New Hampshire Wildcats, 6-3, Sunday at the Tsongas Arena.
Lowell capitalized on three power plays in the game, including two with the game in the balance in the final frame, to break open a game that, for two periods, was controlled by New Hampshire.
The turning point was the opening minutes of the third. Lowell began the period on a power play after a holding penalty that was whistled at the buzzer that closed the second.
Just 36 seconds into the period, Ben Holmstrom fired home a bad angle shot on the power play, faking a pass across the crease and banking a shot off of UNH netminder Brian Foster (28 saves) as soon as he gave away the left post.
That goal opened the floodgates, as Lowell’s Kory Falite poked home a rebound on a two-on-zero at 4:56, Nick Schaus scored on a five-on-three man advantage at 7:31 and Michael Scheu answered a Bobby Butler goal with the River Hawks’ final tally with 4:56 remaining.
“We came down and played a good game for two periods,” said UNH coach Dick Umile. “Then we just gave the game away. I don’t think [Lowell] beat us as much as we gave the game away.”
Certainly UNH’s lack of discipline in the third was a major factor, but so too was the team’s inability to score earlier in the game, particularly in the first period, when they had the River Hawks pinned in their own end for much of the period.
That, though, wasn’t UNH’s lack of scoring punch as much as it was solid goaltending from Lowell’s Carter Hutton (33 saves).
“I thought he had a good bounce back game,” said Lowell coach Blaise MacDonald of Hutton, who hadn’t played since a difficult 5-4 overtime loss to Boston University nine days earlier. “You have to heighten your awareness against teams like UNH and he made some key saves at key times.”
New Hampshire’s first period dominance led to the Wildcats taking an early lead. Mike Sislo scored his third goal of the season when Dalton Speelman forced a turnover in the attacking zone and fed Sislo. He walked out front and wristed a shot over Hutton’s blocker at 3:44 for the 1-0 lead.
Hutton kept Lowell in the game for the remainder of the frame, making 15 of his 33 saves, and when UNH’s Matt Campanale was whistled for cross-checking at 14:09, the River Hawks capitalized.
Just 12 seconds after the start of the power play, Maury Edwards one-timed a low shot that caught Foster moving, beating the netminder five-hole to even the game at one.
In the second, the Wildcats regained the play on an empty-minded defensive error by Lowell. On a defensive zone draw, Lowell defenseman Ryan Blair attempted to clear the puck around the glass, but he instead fired a shot top shelf over Hutton’s shoulder. The goal at 4:57 was credited to UNH’s Austin Block, the first of his career.
Again, though, UNH couldn’t build on the lead and before the end of the period, the River Hawks drew even. Once again it was a slap shot from the point, this one from the stick of Nick Schaus, that was barely redirected by Falite past Foster at 12:32.
In the closing second of the period, Lowell’s David Vallorani made a move in the neutral zone that would’ve left him in the clear had Brett Kostolansky not held him. The holding penalty gave Lowell the power play to begin the third, and Holmstrom’s goal opened the proverbial floodgates that led to the win.
As impressive as the victory was for Lowell, the loss further exposed New Hampshire’s defensive and special team’s issues. The six goals against combined with four goals allowed on Friday in a 4-4 tie with Boston College totaled 10 goals against for the Wildcats for the second straight weekend.
The three power-play goals allowed added to the four surrendered to BC on Friday gave UNH seven goals against with the man advantage. The Wildcats killed just four power plays in 11 attempts on the two games.
The win for Lowell catapults the River Hawks into first place in Hockey East, though with plenty of games to play.
Lowell will take a week off from league play, traveling to Alabama-Huntsville for a two-game non-league series next Friday and Saturday. New Hampshire travels next weekend for a two-game series against Massachusetts.