Saturday thoughts: Can there be any doubters left?
This game was, unequivocally, an all-time classic in Lowell hockey history. And with that having been said, it was terribly unflattering to the hosts and winners, despite everything that happened in the game’s final 15 minutes or so.
What a crazy win, what a wonderful result, what an improbable third period. All of it was before the biggest crowd in Tsongas Center history, and all of it ran through Joe Pendenza, who turned in his finest game as a River Hawk, which in and of itself is saying something. Pendenza scored one goal and set up three more, putting six shots on net (the most by any one player in the game) and finished plus-4 in a game that featured four goals by the opposition. The only reason Lowell was even in this game, let alone 5-4 winners in overtime, was because Pendenza hefted the team on his back when no one else seemed particularly interested in getting anything done.
The less said about the first half of the game, the better. Lowell, we understand, isn’t always going to come out of the gates roaring and fearsome but frankly they were lucky to only be down one through 20 minutes. Shots were 8-7 for the ‘Hawks but the goal conceded was bad by any definition, and the team repeatedly squandered power play opportunities that Northeastern seemed all too eager to give away. This was the kind of hockey these teams played the night before, more or less, and it was neither pretty nor encouraging to watch.
And as the Huskies broadened their lead first to two and then three goals, things only got more upsetting. To that point, the Huskies had just nine shots on net, and were going for long stretches without threatening much at all. In fact, in the 10:02 between their second and third goals, they registered not one shot on goal, though to their credit they attempted more than a few and either put them wide or into bodies. We understand that there is, a lot of the time, the necessity for goaltenders to have some amount of work to keep them busy and mentally involved in the games, and more than 10 minutes without having to make a save is a lot to ask, but Doug Carr has to be better than allowing three goals on the first nine shots he faced, and four on 16 in the game, and seven on 33 this weekend. Chalk it up to any number of things, but he simply hasn’t been good for weeks now. The last time he allowed fewer than three goals in a game was against Clarkson, and the two he conceded there came on just 21 shots. He really couldn’t ask for better defensive performances — or is that inept offensive performances? — than he got in these last two games, and yet he’s just giving up goals upon goals in a manner very reminiscent of freshman-year Doug Carr, and the puck-stopping, positionally-sound wunderkind of last season hasn’t been in evidence for the vast majority of the season. That he’s given up 13 goals in his last three appearances and either won or gotten a no-decision speaks entirely to the team in front of him, because his stats in those games are an appalling 3.55 GAA and just an .865 save percentage. If this doesn’t convince Norm Bazin that Connor Hellebuyck should be the clear No. 1 going forward, nothing will.
Weirdly, even Josh Holmstrom’s opener for Lowell to cut the Northeastern lead to 3-1 felt rather shallow, and even the 12-6 shot differential in the second period wasn’t doing a lot to persuade us this game was ever going to feature any kind of comeback. We were willing to write the game off as a final, long-coming correction to the mean; you can’t get every single bounce for 11 straight games, just on a mathematical basis. Steve Morra’s second goal of the weekend at just 48 seconds of the third period didn’t do much to dissuade us on our stance.
But then Pendenza got in the driver’s seat and the tenor of the game turned very quickly from one of a desperate, cloying lack of success to the clearly-superior hosts simply bullying points out of the game despite not deserving them very much at all. After the offense started to build, it seemed only a matter of time before Bryan Mountain would begin giving up goals as he did the night before, and 8:05 after Morra re-extended the visitors lead to three, Pendenza struck with a vintage Pendenza goal, as he blazed down the middle of the ice and beat the netminder with a simple enough wrist shot. Now, where once there had been dismay, there was hope.
When Lowell went to the power play at 13:02, one very much got the feeling that its success or lack thereof on that man advantage would spell the difference in the game; to that point the River Hawks were 0 for 7 and things seemed to want to continue in that direction when Derek Arnold had a goal very correctly waived off for having only hit the post, and not actually crossed the goal line. “That,” we said to ourselves, “is a six weeks’ worth of bounces catching up with them.” But Arnold, as he was on a late power play the night before, was not to be denied. Just 57 seconds after his first shot was ruled no-goal, he scored for real this time, and pulled Lowell within just one.
Lowell completed the highly improbable comeback for the second consecutive night on a goal from Riley Wetmore with Carr pulled. With about 55 seconds remaining, the puck came to him in a goalmouth scrum and he shoveled it past Mountain, who was once again not-so-great in this one (and on that note, how bad must Chris Rawlings be playing to not be getting time ahead of this kid?).
Christian Folin, who has been phenomenal during this entire run, won the game on a rocket one-timer from the point midway through the overtime period, and if Tsongas Center wasn’t going ballistic when Wetmore scored, it certainly did on that game-winner.
There was a lot of talk after the game of Lowell once again mailing it in, more or less, but still finding a way to win. We’ve seen them win with B- and even C+ games during this run of 11 without a loss, but this one was so far from the team bringing its A game that it’s difficult to remember just what such a game looks like. That stuff we said earlier about bounces continues to pay off in recompense for the dismal start to the season, and this is also what playing nothing but bad opponents (and BU) for a month and a half ultimately gets you, it seems. You obviously take the three points this weekend, as well as the two from BU last week, and say you’re happy to have them, because Lowell’s now in fifth in the conference, a point back of home ice with a game in hand on slip-sliding Providence, and playing with an unflagging confidence that all but abandoned it in the early goings. Despite appearances from the first few periods of both games this weekend, Northeastern is in the same league as Lowell in name only, and that eventually outs.
With all that having been said, let’s hope for far sturdier performances next weekend, because putting some distance between Lowell and the rest of the pack is going to be terribly important from here on out. It’s February now. Let’s start playing like it.