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Weekend preview: SUCKS TO BE YOU (did we do this right?)

March 13, 2008

UMass Lowell River Hawks (15-15-4, 10-13-4 Hockey East) vs. the No 14. Boston University Terriers (17-15-4, 15-9-3 Hockey East)

7:30 p.m. Friday at Agganis Arena – Officials TBA
7 p.m. Saturday (and Sunday if necessary) at Agganis Arena

All-time head-to-head: BU leads UML 56-16-8

Lowell finished seventh in Hockey East with 24 points from 27 games, BU finished second in Hockey East with 33 points from 27 games.

Last three games
Lowell: 1-2 (ot) at Maine, 1-4 at Maine, 3-2 at Northeastern
BU: 2-0 vs. Providence, 6-0 at Providence, 1-5 at UMass

Prior Meetings
Lowell blew a two-goal second-period lead, allowing six unanswered goals (five in the third period) in a 7-4 loss at Agganis Arena on Nov. 3. Maury Edwards scored twice to lead the River Hawks. Luke Popko, Ryan Weston, Brian McGuirk, and Zach Cohen all had two points each for BU.

Lowell avenged the earlier loss with a 4-3 come-from-behind win just before break on Dec. 7. BU jumped out to a 2-0 lead, but second-period goals from Todd Bartelson and Scott Campbell evened the game. Ryan Blair’s first collegiate goal put Lowell up for good, and Kory Falite’s insurance marker 16 seconds later ended up as the game-winner thanks to a late goal from Nick Bonino, his second of the night.

BU crushed Lowell in their final regular-season meeting 6-2. Brandon Yip had a goal and three assists while linemate Colin Wilson had a goal and two helpers, and Pete MacArthur netted the game-winner. Maury Edwards and Ben Holmstrom both scored for Lowell. Brett Bennett made 24 saves to earn the win.

Season series
BU won 2-1.

Top scorers
Lowell:
Kory Falite – 34 GP, 16-13-29 (27 GP, 15-10-25 HE)
Ben Holmstrom – 34, 6-19-25 (27, 5-16-21)
Mark Roebothan – 34, 13-9-22 (27, 11-5-16)
Barry Goers – 34, 4-18-22 (27, 3-14-17)
Mike Potacco – 28, 10-11-21 (23, 7-10-17)

Boston University:
Pete MacArthur – 36 GP, 17-23-40 (27 GP, 14-20-34 HE)
Boomer Ewing – 35, 17-22-39 (26, 13-22-35)
Colin Wilson – 34, 12-22-34 (25, 9-19-28)
Nick Bonino – 35, 15-12-27 (27, 12-9-21)
Chris Higgins – 34, 10-17-27 (26, 10-14-24)

Goaltending
Lowell:
Carter Hutton (6-9-2) – 17 GP, 1,010:11 minutes, 2.38 GAA/.909 sv% (14 GP, 831:02, 2.74 GAA/.899 sv% HE)
Nevin Hamilton (8-6-2) – 17, 982:44, 2.56/.911 (14, 803:09, 2.61/.913 HE)

Boston University:
Brett Bennet (14-9-3) – 27 GP, 1,564:42 minutes, 2.68 GAA/.886 sv% (22 GP, 1,254:50 minutes, 2.49 GAA/.892 sv% HE)
Karson Gillespie (2-5-1) – 11, 497:12, 2.90/.876 (8, 248:26, 2.48/.896 HE)

Team stats
Lowell:
Overall (34 games), 91 goals for (2.68/g), 86 against (2.53/g). Power play 22/150 (14.7%, 0 SHGA), penalty kill 114/135 (84.4%, 1 SHGF)
Hockey East (27 games), 70 goals for (2.59/g), 76 against (2.81/g). Power play 18/116 (15.5%, 0 SHGA), penalty kill 84/103 (81.6%, 0 SHGF)

Boston University:
Overall (36 games), 124 goals for (3.44/g), 105 against (2.92/g). Power play 37/179 (20.7%, 6 SHGA), penalty kill 139/175 (79.4%, 2 SHGF)
Hockey East (27 games), 97 goals for (3.59/g), 72 against (2.67/g). Power play 30/134 (22.5%, 6 SHGA), penalty kill 101/125 (80.8%, 2 SHGF)

Outlook:
This is a zero sum weekend for the River Hawks: win and become the first Lowell team in years to win a playoff series (or indeed, a playoff game), lose and you’re done for another long, dreadful summer.

The crushing weight of that responsibility is all on the shoulders of a group composed almost entirely of underclassmen. One lone senior and three juniors, who have never glimpsed playoff victory in Hockey East, are the only ones with postseason experience in college.

The last time these teams met, in BU’s 6-2 win on Feb. 8, they were teams headed in opposite directions. Lowell, at the time, was No. 17 in the country and three games above .500. BU was unranked and six games below. Now BU is No. 14 and two games over .500. Lowell is unranked at .500 even. What a difference a month makes.

While Lowell has stumbled its way through the last four weeks of its schedule (going 3-5-0), BU has dissected Hockey East competition with surgical precision (going 8-1-0, 7-1-0 in-league). Lowell’s only-average offense has all dried up (2.12 goals per game over the last eight) and the well-above-average goaltending has come back to earth with a resounding thud. (2.32 headed into the BU game, and 2.75 following).

The way BU’s playing right now, things likely couldn’t go any worse.

The Terrier offense is mighty, having not been shut out and held to one goal just four times all year. It has almost literally rained goals on BU opponents to the tune of nearly 3.5 per night over the course of a 36-game season. The Terrier power play runs at a menacing 20.7 percent.

And those much publicized defensive woes BU was going through? Mere memory. Jack Parker‘s boys have allowed seven goals in their last five games, including a 5-1 loss to UMass. They’ve posted four shutouts this season, and all of them have come in the last month. Whatever was wrong the first three times Lowell played the Terriers, it’s been corrected to a horrifyingly efficient degree.

This isn’t to say that Lowell doesn’t stand a chance, nor that they have played particularly badly, but the difference, as we’ve said many times recently, has been capitalizing upon chances. Lowell easily outchanced Maine in 120 minutes of hockey last weekend, and lost the games 6-2 on aggregate.

To see the difference between these teams, one need only look to last weekend’s two series.

BU took the once-dangerous, high-flying Providence assault and all decisively silenced it. PC put 59 shots on goal in those two games, and put none of them past either Brett Bennett (26 saves Thursday) or Karson Gillespie (33 on Friday). BU, meanwhile, popped in eight goals on just 37 shots. The message to Hockey East was clear and emphatic: the Terriers you played earlier this year are dead and buried, and these new Terriers mean serious. goddamn. business.

Meanwhile, in Orono, Lowell was fanning on shots into an open net both Friday and Saturday, and Maine was trying its damnedest to giftwrap both games. The result: one goal a night against the atrocious Maine defense. There should have been at least six goals scored by Lowell last weekend, and the young ‘Hawks managed a paltry two.

The way Lowell has played the last month has left startlingly little margin for error, and if an opponent is capable of burying its chances (which BU is), it could be a long weekend.

On the other hand, Lowell can skate with anyone, including BU, and Kory Falite and Ben Holmstrom have never been hotter in their college careers. All the ‘Hawks might need is very solid play from Carter Hutton (whom we imagine will start both games), and they can steal a game. In Hockey East, once you force a third game, anything can happen.

The Terriers are not invincible. Force them to take penalties and play smashmouth, reckless hockey. The rest will take care of itself.

Our gut says BU in two, but our heart says Lowell in three.

Go ‘Hawks go.

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