LOWELL, Mass. – Connor Hellebuyck stopped all 40 shots to record the eighth shutout of his career and lead Massachusetts-Lowell to a 1-0 victory over Notre Dame.
Steven Buco scored the only goal of the game on a power play at 15:46 of the first period.
The matchup, the first between the two schools in any sport, pitted two of the top defensive teams in the country. It lived up to that billing. Although the shot totals piled up — Notre Dame outshot the River Hawks, 40-28 — both squads effectively limited the grade A opportunities.
“[Our defensive success] comes from the guys in front of me more [than me],” Hellebuyck said. “When we’re paying the price and blocking a lot of shots and getting our sticks in good lanes, it’s a pretty simple game.”
Both teams received three power-play opportunities, including a five-on three with Lowell’s lasting 1:07 to Notre Dame’s 20 seconds, but only the River Hawks could capitalize. In doing so, they bested the nation’s top penalty kill unit, one that entered the game with a 93 percent success rate.
“They’re perceived to be one of the best defensive teams in the country and they play that way,” Notre Dame coach Jeff Jackson said. “They’re a good team in both ends. We had our chances, especially in the third. The difference was that they scored on the power play and we didn’t.”
Steven Summerhays stopped 27-of-28 shots in a losing effort.
The win gives Lowell its fourth straight win and eighth in its last nine games. The River Hawks have also shown an ability of late to win close, playoff-style games.
“A lot of that has to do with good goaltending,” Lowell coach Norm Bazin said. “[Hellebuyck and Doug Carr] have had an opportunity to play in those games and have stood tall. Your team as a whole gets confidence from your goaltender when they’re playing that strong.
“These are the types of games that are going to be apparent all through the playoffs, so it’s a good sign we can win them.”
The game opened with tight-checking hockey in which the highlights were Irish defenseman Stephen Johns leveling Joe Pendenza at the blue line and defenseman Joe Houk making a big glove save on a rebound in the crease.
At 13:21 however, Lowell went on the first power play and less than a minute later, it became a five-on-three advantage. Although the River Hawks didn’t capitalize while up two men, they did at 15:46 while still on a power play. Adam Chapie moved the puck to Ryan McGrath in the right faceoff circle and he fed Stephen Buco on the doorstep. Buco roofed it for his third goal of the year.
Notre Dame’s first great chance to equalize came two minutes into the second period off a Lowell turnover just inside the offensive blue line. Sam Herr raced up the left wing on a two-on-one, but his shot clanged iron.
Midway through the period, the Irish enjoyed back-to-back power plays with an overlapping 20 seconds of five-on-three, but could not capitalize. Bryan Rust, who totaled eight shots in the first two periods alone, threatened with multiple stuff attempts from the left post.
Rust, along with linemates Jeff Costello and David Gerths, threatened again minutes into the third, forcing Hellebuyck to make sprawling saves until the whistle blew.
The sophomore goaltender also came up big with less than three minutes left in the game, stopping T.J. Tynan on the doorstep.
The two teams face a quick turnaround, playing a rematch on Saturday at 4 p.m.