Friday thoughts: The wheels of inevitability
You probably won’t believe us when we say that Lowell didn’t deserve to lose 4-2 last night and in fact didn’t deserve to lose at all. You’ll chalk it up to homerism (who, us?) or delusion.
But keep in mind that we went into the game fully expecting a loss along the lines of 6-1. Regardless of how good we feel this team can be (“kind of”), we are also trying to be realistic about how good Boston College is (“extremely”). And yet, Lowell completely ran the game for long stretches and deserved at least a point for their extremely strong, resilient effort. Instead they got handed a loss that just about everyone in the building and throughout the league and across the country fully expected. But all things being equitable, it wouldn’t have happened.
Let’s start with the extremely basic facts that in this case, the shots tell the story. Lowell carried play to the point that they outshot the Eagles nearly two-to-one, and had it not been for a particularly strong if unspectacular effort from Parker Milner, the final score would have been far different. And it’s important to note here that this wasn’t one of those Providence-from-four-years-ago shot differentials where they’d put 45 shots on the board, maybe a handful of which were Grade-A chances and the rest were soft and from the perimeter and accomplished nothing. Lowell had about a dozen “That was close!” chances and Milner just played an extremely sound positional game that allowed him to never look particularly taxed even when deadening a couple of noisy attempts that Lowell probably should have cashed in.
The River Hawks dictated the pace and tenor of the game from the early goings, outshooting BC 13-5 in the first period, and generally having the far greater amount of puck possession. Holding BC to five shots in a period is really something to be proud of (at least it would be were there any glory to be had in defeat, and there is not). Entering the first intermission scoreless was a fate we would have expected from Lowell but certainly not from BC. The worrying thing though was that the majority of those five Eagles shots, and the fits of possession leading up to them, were perhaps more more threatening than what Lowell was able to muster, though maybe it’s just that we watch these games against teams like BC in abject terror that the worst is about to happen.
And it finally did in the second period, as BC scored two goals in the span of 66 seconds, and at that point we were ready to wave the white flag. The goals, from the sticks of Paul Carey and Steven Whitney, respectively, were just about the BCest goals we would ever expect to see, too. The first came on the power play, where the Eagles were able to whip the puck around in a fashion Lowell hadn’t seen all year (or indeed in BC’s first power play, which was largely ineffective). Perimeter, perimeter, cross-box, goal through a screen. In a flash. It was just gorgeous and the type of goal to which every power play in the nation should aspire. No River Hawks team since the Ben Walter days could replicate that kind of puck movement and lethality in finishing. Nothing Doug Carr could do on that one.
The second was also a goal that’s unique to the top teams in college hockey, as it was a bit flukey in that no one in the building apart from the two forwards who collaborated on it really saw what was happening until the puck was in the back of the net. Patch Alber fished it out of the corner to Carr’s left and just kind of threw it to the middle of the ice, where it passed two Lowell sticks and somehow evaded Carr’s vision (or at least exceeded his ability to react to it) and found Whitney, who milliseconds earlier had just popped into the exact spot he was supposed to be in, for the tap-in. Even Whitney, who finished the night with a goal and an assist, seemed surprised that things had just gone as well as they did.
At this point, obviously, we figured Lowell was dead in the water. Down 2-0 at home to the No. 1 team in the country less than five minutes into the second period despite carrying play would have dispirited last year’s team, and understandably so. But this year’s team, we occasionally forget, is not last year’s team. And perhaps that’s why, less than four minutes later, we were so surprised when Mike Budd (who by the way was Lowell’s best player in the game by a considerable margin) stripped the puck from a BC defender, put a shot on net and roofed the rebound over a stickless Milner to bring Lowell within a goal. Could the River Hawks have breathed life into a game we felt was over? As it turns out, the answer was yes. Lowell’s new go-hard-to-the-net philosophy was fully in evidence and Matt Ferreira drove and was rewarded when a Joseph Pendenza shot that was going wide bounced off him and went into the net. Tie game at 15:57 of the second period and Lowell had to be feeling great about its chances heading into the third.
Unfortunately, Johnny Gaudreau had other plans, as his seemingly-harmless turnaround shot with 1:18 left in the middle period beat Carr five-hole and, eventually, stood up as the game-winner.
Lowell played through the third period and did so fairly admirably, once again outshooting BC by a wide margin (11-4, though this time with the caveat that teams generally shoot less and give up more when they’re ahead) and once again threatening to level, but lacked the immediacy we saw when they went down two, prior to that, had been tied at zeroes. Case in point: the ‘Hawks’ only power play of the third period, which was ineffective and only really began to get set up once, if we’re being generous. Otherwise BC was repelling every attempted zone entry and did a great job along the boards to win possession and clear when they were unsuccessful in their first objective.
And in the end, that’s what separates the Lowells of the world from the BCs. Lowell played its heart out last night and dictated the game and came out on the losing end. BC didn’t play anywhere near its potential and eked out a W on the road that proved the old adage, “You have to be good to be lucky,” to be quite true.
Lowell will certainly take this loss as a sign of encouragement; if it can do that to BC imagine what it can do to Amherst or Providence or Vermont or (haha) UNH. But the difference, as ever, is finishing. And Lowell still has a long way to go in that regard.