LOWELL, Mass. — Seventh-seeded Providence opened the Hockey East playoffs with a bang, upsetting second-seeded Massachusetts-Lowell 5-3 on Thursday in the opener of a best-of-three quarterfinal series at the Tsongas Center.
It was the Friars’ first playoff victory since 2005, and it ended ended a six-game winless streak that crescendoed with a sweep at the hand of the River Hawks just last weekend.
“I thought it was a great game,” Providence coach Nate Leaman said. “It’s hard to play when both teams really know each other.”
Derek Army entered the playoffs on a 14-game goalless drought, but he scored twice for Providence, including the second-period goal that put the Friars ahead for good.
Skating into the Lowell zone three-on-two, Damian Cross dropped the puck back to Army, who fired a shot that beat Lowell goaltender Doug Carr over his shoulder for a 3-2 lead.
“It’s a new season,” Army said. “I just looked at it as a positive so I could turn it around and give us a chance to win.”
The River Hawks got on the board first, moments after an ineffective power play expired in the first period. After the puck was chipped up the boards to the blue line, Scott Wilson fired a slap shot on net that was bobbled by Friars goaltender Alex Beaudry. Riley Wetmore tipped the rebound off the post, but it was Josh Holmstrom that finished the job by poking the puck in for his 11th goal of the season.
Lowell came close to doubling its lead with a few solid chances in the final minute. The first came when Wetmore sent a pass from behind the goal to Holmstrom in the slot. Holmstrom failed to get a good piece of the puck and his shot was kicked away by Beaudry. The next chance came moments later on a one-timer from Matt Ferreira in the right circle that was once again kicked out by the Friars goaltender.
The Friars leveled the score on a power play 5:28 into the second period. Army received the puck unmanned at the point, skated into the circle, and fired a slap shot that beat Carr to the glove side.
“Shane [Luke] had a great screen in front,” said Army. “I read the screen and held because the [defenseman] went down, so I just shot it well past Shane, and he had a great screen, and it just went in.”
It didn’t take long for Providence to take its first lead of the game on a goal by Andy Balysky. After a scramble in front of the net, Balysky jammed the puck home for his seventh goal of the season.
The River Hawks continued the seesaw action with a power play of their own. After receiving the puck at the point, Zack Kamrass sent it to Wilson at the top of the left circle, who fired a wrist shot that beat Beaudry stick side. The goal was Wilson’s 16th of the season.
Lowell had what it thought was the tying goal called back in the third period, and moments later, Providence struck again to increase its lead to two. On the rush, Drew Brown ripped a shot that beat Carr stick side but caught the post. However, the rebound bounced out to Matt Bergland, who roofed it into the mesh for a 4-2 lead.
A late goal from Ferreira gave the River Hawks hope, but that was quickly squashed by an empty-net tally by Bergland to cement the 5-3 final.
Carr stopped 36 of 40 shots for Lowell while Beaudry let in just three of the 36 shots she faced.
“We didn’t play our best hockey, and it’s not a good time not play your best hockey,” said Lowell coach Norm Bazin. “We were reactionary tonight, and we need to find a way to get back to being proactive.”
Game 2 of the series is Friday night; a deciding third game would take place on Sunday.