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Friday thoughts: Game of inches

March 15, 2008

Wide-open nets missed by Lowell: 4
Goal differential: 2 (one, really)

And that was it.

Lowell was given ample opportunity to extend an early lead and BU left the door wide open for Lowell to come back even after BU scored three straight goals to go up 3-1. Brett Bennett (26 saves) did everything in his power to allow the River Hawks a chance to level, and they simply could not put a three-inch rubber disc into 24 square feet of wide open net. Colby Cohen singlehandedly saved the game on just such a situation, making a diving stop on a Ben Holmstrom try while Bennett was well out of the crease for no readily apparent reason.

In this one 60-minute stretch, BU’s strengths (offense, the power play) and shortcomings (goaltending, defense, the penalty kill) were painfully evident. The way in which the Terriers moved the puck from the outset was mindbogglingly efficient. At the risk of being hyperbolic, they whipped the puck around (on the power play especially) with all the skill and vision of an NHL team. It was literally that good and Lowell had no answer for it most of the night.

Case in point: the game-winning goal by Pete MacArthur. His give-and-go with Boomer Ewing was a play of epic beauty, the kind you’d see in a hockey move, shot in slow motion from low angles. It was a case of perfect understanding between linemates and MacArthur’s tip-in shot would have beaten any goalie in the world. You can’t fault Carter Hutton (28 saves) for that.

Lowell scored first in the game, as it has in seven of its last eight games, with Mark Roebothan picking up his 14th of the year on the power play. It looked like he tried to slide a pass across the top of the crease to linemate Mike Potacco, but it hit Matt Gilroy‘s skate and got past Bennett. These are goals Lowell normally doesn’t get, and against a team that has been playing as well defensively as BU has over the past month, it was massively, massively important.

But here’s a goal you can fault Hutton for: the blind shot from Brian McGuirk 10:01 later that sneaks through four players and Hutton just doesn’t get down and on the post in time. Now it’s 1-1, and BU was off. Less than two minutes later, MacArthur settled a bouncing puck that deflected off Nick Schaus‘ stick and found himself all alone in front of Hutton. You know the rest, 2-1 BU.

Lowell proceeded to miss three wide-open nets in the second period, while Chris Higgins‘ power play goal extended the lead to two. The only other highlight was Joe Pereira flat-out falling down on a breakaway bid and Steve Capraro getting whistled for tripping despite being about two stick lengths behind him when it happened.

The third period, though, produced a dizzying array of goalscoring. There was the gorgeous: MacArthur’s game-winner; the terrifying: the Maury Edwards rocket from the point on a Lowell power play (this kid is scary, scary good and especially against BU, against which he has 4-3-7 in four games); the ugly: Paul Worthington‘s score, also on the power play, from behind the net (we’re still wondering what Bennett was thinking to find himself that hopelessly out of position); and the inevitable: Higgins’ second of the night into an empty net with five seconds left.

What this game showed us at least is that if Lowell can stay out of the box, it can beat BU. The Terriers were 2 of 4 with the man advantage (Higgins’ first and MacArthur’s second) but Lowell was thoroughly out of its depth in contending with BU’s fast-paced, puck-moving style. To further illustrate this point, we will hearken back to Lowell’s 4-3 win over BU this year, when the Terriers were 0 for 1 on the power play. If you don’t give them chances, they can’t bury them. Simple as that.

Lowell, meanwhile, was massive on the power play. They didn’t move the puck nearly as efficiently, nor did they look as menacing, but it’s difficult to argue with a 3-of-5 night. Apparently this was the first time since Nov. 19, 2005 that Lowell has popped in three on the power play.

One play, though, still bothers us. Late in the first period, Ewing hooked down a Lowell player in front of the net and was whistled for a call. Meanwhile, Kory Falite had been knocked into Bennett, then shoved Bennett. Bennett’s reaction was a classic oversell of an otherwise innocuous shove, as he did his best impression of one of those cowboys on a rooftop in old westerns who gets shot and literally throws himself screaming to the street below. A more grandiose flop from a BU netminder has never happened, and that’s saying quite a bit. The result: a roughing penalty and no UML power play, Bennett’s hockey Oscar.

Interestingly, this was another eight-goal game in the BU-Lowell series that has now produced 34 goals and two of the most entertaining Lowell games of the year in four meetings. Lowell should schedule BU for non-conference games next year.

All in all, we’re encouraged by Lowell’s play last night. The young ‘Hawks showed resiliency (though Jack Parker chalked it up to BU throwing it on cruise control in the Globe. Typical.) and are gaining invaluable experience. If they can cut down on taking penalties tonight, the River Hawks will put themselves in a very good position to win. Lowell faces elimination tonight, but with Karson Gillespie in net for BU, a Game 3 isn’t out of the question.

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