LOWELL, Mass. — Derek Arnold scored at 1:50 of overtime to send Massachusetts-Lowell to the TD Garden with a 2-1 Hockey East quarterfinal win over Maine.
Scott Wilson and Christian Folin broke two-on-one and Wilson, who was a force all night, passed left-to-right to set up Folin perfectly. Maine goaltender Martin Ouellette, however, made an outstanding save. His own defenseman, Mark Nemec, crashed into him as the puck bounced up in the air.
Michael Fallon knocked it down with his glove and, off balance, spun around, trying to knock it in. Arnold, trailing the play, swooped in and swatted it home.
The River Hawks had to endure an estimated seven-minute-long video review centered on whether Fallon had been guilty of a hand pass — the evidence appearing inconclusive — before referee Jeff Bunyon signaled the goal.
Lowell advances to the TD Garden for the first time since 2009, while Maine’s season ends.
“I couldn’t be more pleased about our team moving on to the Garden,” Lowell coach Norm Bazin said. “It’s exciting for our guys, it’s a necessary step and I’m looking forward to playing again.”
For the longest time, it appeared that Ouellette, who finished with 35 saves, would force a deciding third game on Sunday.
“He was on,” Bazin said. “He stopped a few that I thought were already in. He was excellent.”
The Black Bears scored a power-play goal eight minutes into the second period on a Devin Shore shot through a screen and the River Hawks couldn’t take advantage of two five-minute major penalties assessed to Joey Diamond, the second of which resulted in a game disqualification.
Diamond, who entered the game as Maine’s all-time penalty leader with 445 career penalty minutes, earned a five-minute major in the first for running the goaltender and then the DQ for kicking.
“Joe had a tough night,” Maine coach Tim Whitehead said. “It’s an emotional game and he’s an emotional guy.
“You live and die by the sword. We wouldn’t even be in the playoffs if not for Joe’s play and all the big goals that he’s scored and his leadership.
“He’s part of our family and I feel for him, but his emotions got the best of him tonight.”
Ironically, Diamond’s absence spurred the Black Bears on for a time as Whitehead double-shifted Kyle Beattie in the second period and Will Merchant in the third.
“When Diamond left the game, I thought their urgency went up two notches,” Bazin said. “That was most concerning as a coach because you never want to lose the stick battles and the urgency. They were outcompeting us for a good 10 or 12 minutes.”
The failure to capitalize on both major penalties was looking more and more fatal as Ouellette turned away shot after shot.
“[It was] another sign that I thought the series might be prolonged,” Bazin said. “You have to show a greater level of urgency on special teams if you’re going to capitalize. We weren’t good enough in that area. You start to wonder if you’re going to get it done.”
Fortunately for the River Hawks, they were able to tie it four minutes into the third. Wilson shot from the left wing, drove the net, and collected the rebound. He swung behind the net and attempted a wraparound, after which Fallon dove and knocked the rebound in.
Both sides had opportunities in the final minute as Maine swarmed and then Lowell countered back with Wilson almost scoring at the buzzer.
Maine certainly did itself proud, surviving the loss of its best player and taking the league’s regular-season champion into overtime. The Black Bears had resided in last place halfway through the season, but rallied to post one the league’s best second-half records.
“It was a hard-fought game and we’re proud of our guys and how they battled against a really good team,” Whitehead said. “It’s important how far we’ve come this year. We don’t even resemble the team we were at the start of the year. We’ve come a long way.”
Lowell now waits to see which opponent it will face in the Garden as the No. 1 seed.