LOWELL, Mass. — Providence made Hockey East tournament history on Sunday afternoon, beating Massachusetts-Lowell, 1-0, in the third game of a best-of-three quarterfinal series to become the first No. 7 seed to advance in the 28-year history of the conference.
Providence overcame an emotional 3-2 overtime loss in Friday night’s game two and put forth a stifling defensive effort. The win marks the first time the Friars have reached the Hockey East semifinals since 2001 and the club does so after having missed the playoffs of each of the last three seasons.
“It’s terrific,” said Providence first-year coach Nate Leaman. “I think we’re playing our best hockey right now. It was a great game tonight. We just got a bounce early.”
That bounce was a Ross Mauermann goal at the seven-minute mark of the opening period as he deflected an Alex Velischek shot from the right point through the legs of Lowell netminder Doug Carr (35 saves).
Few would have believed that the Lowell offense, potent throughout the entire season, could be held scoreless for the final 53 minutes. But between a positionally-solid Alex Beaudry (29 saves), who wasn’t overly tested with grade ‘A’ opportunities, and a Friars’ defense that continually blocked shot after shot, finishing the night with 20 blocks total, the formula was intact.
“We’re obviously disappointed,” said UML coach Norm Bazin. “I didn’t think we could muster much offensively in terms of executing around net front. That was our downfall tonight, getting to the front of the net.”
While Beaudry was solid when needed throughout the game, his counterpart, Carr, was a hard-luck loser, keeping the River Hawks in the game with a number of solid saves as the Friars held a lopsided advantage in odd-man rushes throughout.
“[Carr] gave us an opportunity to win the game,” said Bazin. “He didn’t start off that well, but he got better as the game went on. I was very proud of his effort.”
Providence controlled the better part of the first period, outshooting the River Hawks, 12-8, in the frame. After Mauermann got the Friars on the board, the visitors nearly extended the lead 23 seconds later.
On a rush, David Brown fired a low wrist shot through Carr’s legs that trickled towards the net. An alert Chad Ruhwedel pulled the puck off the goal line to save the goal.
In the second, Lowell controlled the game territorially, but still couldn’t muster the offense it looked for. Lowell held a 13-10 advantage in shots, though there were just three grade ‘A’ shots for the River Hawks and a plethora of blocked shots for the Friars.
Early in the third, Providence took back control of the game and looked to extend the lead with 10:06 remaining. Defenseman Myles Harvey poked a loose puck at the right post into an empty net, but referee John Gravallese immediately signaled that the puck was played with a high stick prior to reaching Harvey.
The play was reviewed extensively on replay before the final call was announced, something that benefited Lowell.
“[The no-goal] ignited them,” said Leaman. “That pause got the crowd into the game and their next three shifts after that, we were on our heels. We were fortunate to make it through that stretch.”
In the closing minutes, the Friars’ defense was immense clogging the net front until the final buzzer sounded.
The victory is the first for the Friars in a road series since 1988. They will take on top-seeded Boston College in the opening semifinal game next Friday night at the TD Garden.
Providence is looking for its third Lamoriello Trophy and first since 1996.
For Lowell, despite being denied the chance to advance, the River Hawks remain a strong candidate for the NCAA tournament field. Lowell entered Sunday’s game tied for fifth in USCHO.com’s PairWise rankings and barring a significant number of upsets, should be in position come next Sunday to earn the school’s first NCAA tournament appearance since 1996.
Bazin hopes that his team can take something from this weekend’s losses into the national tournament should the River Hawks make the field.
“We can take an awful lot into the NCAA tournament,” said Bazin. “I think we have a very good hockey team, but I want this to fester with the guys a little bit.
“I’d like to think we have a very good chance at moving on. We had a very good season. I feel that we’ve got enough in the win column to move forward, but that’s not for me to determine. Once this weekend is over, we’ll have a better idea.”