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Saturday thoughts: Get Carter

March 16, 2008

There’s no other way to say it, Carter Hutton should be in jail right now.

The sophomore netminder has to be the most wanted man on Comm Ave right now, considering he just pulled off a 41-save heist that would make Danny Ocean blush, and Lowell cruised to a 4-1 win.

Like Mr. Ocean, though, Hutton needed some help, and got it in spades from Lowell’s top line. Ben Holmstrom, Kory Falite and Paul Worthington combined for Lowell’s three first-period goals, each beating starter-turned-bench-warmer Karson Gillespie (seven saves), who got yanked for an overtly terrible performance. Brett Bennett was steadier (though not particularly steady) in relief, making 13 saves the rest of the way, but still provided enough scary moments to leave BU fans cringing whenever the puck came into his zone.

Worthington, by the way, has certainly rounded into form over the past two weekends. His play in the first period, in which he set a career high with three points (goal, two assists) was outstanding, and likely the primary reason Lowell carried play so effectively. He picked up a secondary assist on Holmstrom’s power play goal to open the scoring 6:52 in. He also notched the primary helper on Falite’s game-winner, his 17th of the year, less than four minutes later. Then at 18:00 of the period, Worthington popped in his own goal to extend the River Hawk lead to 3-0, streaking through the slot on a rush with Barry Goers.

Lowell was at the height of its effectiveness, and certainly seemed to have been helped by Boomer Ewing‘s bonehead charging penalty after the horn blew to end the first period. Lowell, however, did not convert the chance, and BU started to compose itself a bit in front of Bennett. The crowd of 4,000-plus was starting to buzz a bit, and BU was getting quality chances, all of which were turned aside by Hutton until Chris Higgins finally solved him with a fairly terrible shot that trickled in with all the speed of a molasses flow.

However, Lowell was fortunate enough to go on the power play again thanks to another bonehead play, Kevin Shattenkirk simply punching a Lowell forward in the head on a break-in. This was a chance to settle the game down and possibly pop in another one to take the crowd out of it once and for all. Lowell’s top power play unit looked threatening for all of 30 seconds before BU cleared the zone and Nick Bonino headed into the Lowell zone on the forecheck.

What Bonino did next was jaw-dropping. He was somehow able to bury the puck in the Lowell end, despite being outnumbered three to one, for most of the rest of the power play. He simply outworked three players and took the game by the scruff of the neck for an entire shift, all by himself. The resultant confusion led to a too many men call on UML, negating the final two seconds of the Lowell power play. But more importantly, it energized a largely dead Agganis crowd and fired up the entire Terrier bench. In an otherwise regrettable game, for about a minute and a half, Nick Bonino was a giant.

Lowell was able to collect itself and kill the penalty (BU was scoreless on three power plays), but BU kept getting quality chances, and Hutton and a slew of players who eagerly dove for blocked shots were not to be solved again. BU attempted 74 shots in the game (25 between and below the faceoff dots), and 20 never got to the net. Those that did, such as six or seven A-plus chances, Hutton made saves that would have qualified as “Save of the Night” in any rink in the world.

In the third, Lowell held on for dear life as Hutton improbably turned aside shot after shot, making 20 of his 41 saves in the final frame. Patrick Cey‘s brilliant forechecking allowed him to pick off a breakout pass in the slot and beat Bennett with a simple move to make it 4-1 with 7:56 to go. The seconds ticked off with merciless slowness, but Hutton and the Lowell defense were able to weather a hellacious storm to earn a third game against all odds.

The implications of this game are huge:
1) Most obviously, it sends the series to a third game and keeps Lowell alive for at least one more night.
2) It instills in the team a supreme, unwavering confidence in Carter Hutton. Hutton was any number of adjectives tonight (incredible, clutch, massive, stellar, unrivaled, etc. all spring to mind) and there’s no way in hell Lowell plays with any hesitance whatsoever in front of him. Hutton, we know now, will make all the saves he needs to make, and Lowell needn’t worry about it.
3) This is the first time any Lowell team has won a playoff game since 2001-02, which is just an unspeakably long amount of time to go winless in the postseason. Now that the monkey is off Lowell’s back, that’s another thing to not have to worry about.
4) Lowell now knows it can manhandle BU as it did in the first and third periods tonight. The second is a period best not talked about as far as that type of thing goes, but this is where Lowell benefits from having Hutton behind it. Mistakes can be made and Hutton will still make stops.
5) BU was held scoreless on the power play for the first time in a little less than a month, and didn’t really seem especially worrisome for Lowell at any point. After flailing helplessly at every flawlessly executed BU pass and ultimately ending up out of position as it did Friday, Lowell hunkered down and simply got in the way of shots. The ‘Hawks were content to allow BU to fling the puck D-to-D and around the perimeter at breakneck speed, but you could count the number of BU passes through the box on one hand. Shots weren’t getting to the cage, and that was all that mattered. This was, by far, the biggest and most important adjustment Lowell made between games.

Game 3 is set now. Hutton vs. Bennett (we presume), and BU will certainly benefit for the return of Colin Wilson (from what we heard, that “hip flexor” was really a crippling injury to the effort bone on Friday). However, Eric Gryba, the third-pairing defenseman and chief punk on that Boston University team, got hurt midway through the first period and is questionable for tomorrow.

Lowell just needs to settle in and play the same game it did tonight (though we’d prefer that the ‘Hawks allowed less shots). Jump out early, stand on BU’s throat. Play the most boring hockey you’ve ever played in your lives if you have to. Just win.

Go ‘Hawks go!

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