Friday thoughts: If it will not come to Muhammad
Northeastern coach Jim Madigan made a choice headed into tonight’s game that was at once understandable and perplexing, and in the end it spelled the difference between Lowell going home with a deeply and thoroughly deserved loss, and its extending its unbeaten streak to 10 consecutive games.
That decision, which one supposes was predicated largely on the gut-wrenching performance turned in by Chris Rawlings against Boston College last Saturday in this same building (six goals conceded on just 16 shots in 28:52 of work), was starting backup goaltender Bryan Mountain, who is widely regarded as a subpar Hockey East goaltender, and rightly so because he is not very good. And the reason that this decision all but assured Lowell escaped with a 4-4 road tie is that Mountain, rather prophetically if you’ll forgive the pun, did nothing but cough up rebound after rebound as Lowell piled 45 shots on net, including 30 in the second and third periods alone.
Now, 45 shots on goal, just eight days after it pumped 50 on Jon Gillies in a 2-1 win, might lead one to believe that this was a game dictated by Lowell, but that’s not all that true. For much of the contest, this had all the pallor of the 4-3 loss to Maine earlier this season, in that both teams were spinning their tires furiously but sinking ever deeper into a particularly thick mud of ineffectiveness for all their efforts. Even the goals weren’t particularly nice, by and large, and that’s saying something given that there were eight of them in the game.
Leaving aside the first period, which was about as pleasant and aesthetically engaging as much of World War I must have been, the game really only started to open up entirely because both teams played the entire second period in complete discombobulation. Three goals for Northeastern, two for Lowell, absolute chaos. The first came off Garrett Vermeersch’s stick on a Northeastern power play at 3:13 (called because Jake Suter “tripped” a Husky forward with a textbook hipcheck), and was through a screen. Lowell, however, answered just 1:17 later when a Christian Folin point shot caused a scramble around Mountain — who, again, seemed all too eager to give up rebounds so large they lived up to his surname — and AJ White tucked it into the net for his first collegiate goal.
Then, as if to underscore why Mountain should never start under any circumstances, Chad Ruhwedel scored a goal for the fourth consecutive game at 6:48. On a soft wrist shot. From the red line. To which Mountain didn’t even react until it was past him. We’ve seen goals of that variety before — JR Bria famously scored on Ben Bishop from the neutral zone, Josh Reed once beat Mike Ayers from his own blue line, etc. — but we’ve never in our lives seen the goalie not even react to it. That’s pure Mountain, and you can never take that away from him. (Also of note: There was a sequence late in the second period in which Mountain caught a weak wrist shot, from whom we cannot recall, and started looking around like he had no idea where the puck was. We’ve been watching college hockey for a long time, and seen a lot of very, very bad goaltenders play against the River Hawks. We have never in our lives seen a goalie actually not know he caught a puck. It was a truly remarkable experience.)
Unfortunately, Northeastern was able to level and then pull ahead six minutes apart on goals from who but Kevin Roy. The first, like Vermeersch’s, was a wrister through a screen, and was it ever of a supremely high quality. The second, though, was one Doug Carr would probably like to have back, as it wasn’t a particularly great shot, and it beat him five-hole to boot. That was Northeastern’s third goal on just its 17th shot, though, and Norm Bazin had seen enough. In went Brian Robbins for the game’s remaining 23:08 as Connor Hellebuyck didn’t dress for the second consecutive game.
Robbins escaped the second period without conceding any more goals, given that Lowell seemed galvanized by that last strike, and didn’t allow a single attempt at goal over the final few minutes. But that run of success didn’t last long. He saved and held onto the first shot he saw in the third period, but then on the ensuing draw, Braden Pimm won the draw back to Cody Ferreiro, who got a quick shot off. Robbins stopped that one, but just barely, as the puck trickled through him and was knocked home by Steve Morra, a senior, for his first goal in 41 career games.
It would have been easy for the River Hawks to find themselves discouraged. They’d given up four goals to a bad team, and hadn’t looked all that hot doing it. They had gotten and quickly squandered a lead, which is something they’d not been in the business of doing for quite some time now. They were playing indisputably their worst defensive game since the winning streak began. They were once again not getting much in the way of sustained offensive pressure. They were, for the first time in more than a month, getting very few to no bounces to go their way. And yet, perhaps as a result of the supreme confidence going on a nine-game run of success, they didn’t pack it in once they went down by two as they might have in the past. Instead, they bore down.
Dan Furlong clawed Lowell back within a goal just 3:07 after Morra doubled the hosts’ lead, which was fair enough given that he was on the ice for all three of the Huskies’ middle-period goals and was, in fact, the defender who was meant to be in Roy’s face when he scored his second. After a bout of actual successful cycling, the puck came to him from White, and a good hard wrister that may or may not have hit something on the way to the net found pay dirt.
Then, for a little while at least, it seemed that things were just going to muddle along through to the end of the game. That is, until former Lowell recruit turned mediocre Husky defenseman Colton Saucerman was whistled for crosschecking Scott Wilson along the left wing boards in the attacking zone. In defense of Saucerman, though we’re not sure why we’re willing to be fair to him, this was a pretty weak call that effectively balanced out the Suter “trip” because Wilson was already falling when contact was made. Perhaps in the future, though, you don’t give that little extra shove as he goes down. Just a thought.
Nonetheless, it sent Lowell to the power play with 14:36 left and the general feeling in the building seemed to be that the visitors either scored there or went on home unhappy. Fortunately for the River Hawks, this was by far the best power play of the night. The movement was superb and the possession was convincing, and when it finally came to Riley Wetmore to put the puck to the net from the point, it rather effectively produced yet another rebound from Mountain, who turned them out as effectively as a Pitchback all night.
And where Lowell struggled to capitalize on those second chances for much of the night (the most egregious being Joe Pendenza putting a golden opportunity wide on the backhand in the first period), Derek Arnold was determined that the stretch of futility not continue. It came to him from an almost impossibly low angle, but Mountain gave him all the room he needed to tuck home the game-tying goal with just 4:46 left in regulation. Again, fitting and prophetic and perhaps inevitable. You can’t give up that many rebounds — we wish we’d counted — and expect to not have one of them get past you at a critical juncture. Certainly not against a team that has refused to lose for weeks now, and almost entirely on the road.
That was it for the scoring, though, as both teams clamped down on the defense in the dying minutes, and both seemed content to do so. For Lowell, it was rescuing a point from the gaping maw of defeat, which it had spent most of the first two-thirds of the game broadening with the Jaws of Life. For Northeastern, well, getting even a single point from anyone given the team’s overall quality must have felt just fine with them, particularly after giving up nine to BC (this obviously ignores the fact that they still gave up four, and are up to 19 allowed in their last three games, but for now that’s neither here nor there).
Going into the weekend, we said that the results depended largely on two factors: Whether Kevin Roy could be successful in his attempts torture Lowell’s defense as he seems to do to nearly everyone else, and which Northeastern team showed up. As it turned out, Roy was as advertised, and the good Northeastern showed up for the vast majority of the game. Just not enough.
We’ll gladly take the point given the performance, and because Ryan McGrath was out of the lineup, but anything less than two tomorrow just isn’t going to fly. Not in front of a sold-out crowd. Not against these Huskies. They’re really not very good at all.