LOWELL, Mass. — No. 8 Massachusetts-Lowell claimed second place in the final Hockey East standings for just the fourth time in program history by finishing off the weekend sweep of Providence by a 4-2 final.
With the victory, the River Hawks improve to 22-10-1 overall and 17-9-1 in Hockey East. The Friars fall to 12-18-4 and 10-14-3 in league action, good for seventh place and the team’s first trip to the playoffs after a three-year hiatus.
“We were really pleased to get the win tonight,” said Mass.-Lowell coach Norm Bazin. “It was certainly nip and tuck, but it was a good effort.”
The River Hawks got the first good chance of the game when Alex Beaudry denied a breakaway attempt from Michael Budd. After getting around a defender into the Providence zone, David Valorani sent a pass to an unmarked Budd, whose wrist shot from the slot was blocked away by Beaudry, keeping the contest scoreless.
Lowell eventually broke through to take the first lead of the game 9:45 into the first period. After a failed clearing attempt by the Friars, Terrence Wallin slapped a shot from the blue line. Alone in front of the net, Joseph Pendenza tipped the shot past Beaudry for his ninth goal of the season.
“[The Pendenza-Ferreira-Wallin line] responded well tonight,” said Bazin. “I thought they gave us life. Their puck possession game was finally where it needed to be. Not that it was terrible before, but it certainly wasn’t up to par. They needed to get back to basics and I think they did that tonight.”
Marc Boulanger came up big late in the first period for the River Hawks by padding away a backhanded one-timer from the slot by Matt Bergland.
“I felt good out there,” said Boulanger, who made his first start of the season and notched his first career victory. “It’s been a little while since I’ve played, but I got more comfortable as the game went along.”
It did not take long in the second period for Mass.-Lowell to double its lead. After chipping the puck into the Providence zone, Scott Wilson fought for possession of the bouncing puck with Friar defenseman Steven Shamanski before Derek Arnold swooped in and fired the puck past Beaudry for his 17th goal of the season.
The Friars cut the lead in half when Andy Balysky tallied his sixth goal of the season. Balysky took the puck into the Lowell zone, got in around the defense and jammed it under Boulanger, cutting the deficit to 2-1 going into the third stanza.
Less than two minutes into the final period, the River Hawks struck again to regain their two-goal lead. After entering the Providence zone, Wallin sent the puck down to Pendenza in the right circle, creating a two-on-one with Matt Ferreira. Pendenza then passed it to Ferreira, who beat Beaudry stick side to give Lowell the 3-1 lead.
Mass.-Lowell put the final nail in the coffin late in the third period on Pendenza’s second goal of the game. Working on the power play, Arnold one-timed a pass from Zach Kamrass from the point. Pendenza redirected the shot from the bottom of the left circle past Beaudry for the 4-1 lead.
A last-minute goal by Damian Cross would bring the Friars back within two, but that is as close as they would come.
“[Tonight] was a playoff-like atmosphere,” said Providence coach Nate Leaman. “The only thing I am really disappointed with was our lack of execution on our scoring chances.”
Boulanger turned aside 22 of the 24 shots he faced.
“It’s a great feeling,” said Boulanger. “It’s been a long time coming, but now I guess I can cross that off my bucket list.”
Beaudry stopped 31 of the 35 pucks sent his way.
It will not be long before these two clubs meet again as Lowell will host the Friars in the Hockey East quarterfinals next weekend.