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Friday thoughts: Go tell the Spartans, passerby

October 18, 2008

One critical flaw was all it took for the game to come undone.

With Lowell up 1-0 early in the third period and Jason DeLuca in the penalty box, Ben Holmstrom was whistled for a trip at 3:26. The 50-second 5-on-3 power play was obviously going to be critical.

“This,” we said to ourselves, “is the game right here.”

Lowell kills it, and likely uses the momentum swing to throttle the life out of the game, the 5,000-strong crowd, and Michigan State’s hope for a split. State cashes in, and all of the above are awakened and thirsting for blood.

So when Ben Warda scored 27 seconds in to level the game, Tim Crowder‘s goal 16 seconds later was a fait accompli. It was then the Spartans’ time to turn away all remaining chances the River Hawks had, and freshman netminder Drew Palmissano was equal to Lowell’s seven remaining attempts. The Spartan defense, too, was unbelievable in closing out the game, blocking seven more down the stretch.

It’s a shame too, because Kory Falite‘s goal from Holmstrom and Paul Worthington with just 1.4 seconds on the clock in the second period looked to be the type of backbreaker Lowell needed. Nice to see those boys finally get on the board, and we look forward to many more goals to come. It should have set a tone for the third period, but two small mistakes led to penalties, and penalties led to goals.

The majority of Lowell’s offense came from the CPR line last night, with Mark Roebothan, Mike Potacco and Scott Campbell creating 10 of Lowell’s 22 shots on net. It also didn’t hurt that Campbell and Holmstrom were a combined 21 of 31 at the faceoff circle. That’s how you set a tone for an entire game, and Lowell controlled the majority of it despite the shot gap tilting in State’s favor by 14. If last night’s performance was a perfect textbook definition of road hockey, this was near-perfect. But against teams like the Spartans at their home rinks, if you ain’t perfect, you ain’t winning. Near-perfect simply doesn’t cut it.

Lowell wouldn’t have even been in a position to win entering the third period, however, had it not been for the stellar play of Carter Hutton, who stood on his head all night and made 34 saves in the loss. The night bumped Hutton’s stats to an astonishing 1.34 goals-against average and a .941 save percentage, and that’s exactly what we meant when we said that a higher save percentage gives Lowell a greater chance to win. Hutton was outstanding this weekend and kept Lowell in a road series against the No. 11 team in the country almost 800 miles from home. That they even competed in Friday’s game is a testament to how remarkably well he played.

We would be remiss, too, in not mentioning the play of Jeremy Dehner, who according to broadcasters Bob Ellis and Jonathan Albert, played absolutely great hockey in both games. Ellis occasionally noted that it’s unlikely he’ll ever get recognized by the Hockey East coaches or media for his contribution, but if he keeps playing like this, there’s no way he won’t. He is almost certainly the best defenseman in the league, and, with all due respect to the great Matt Gilroy, we’d take Dehner over him every day of the week.

Another problem, though, was that Lowell was 0-6 on the power play. If you’re given six chances up a man, you have to put one in, and it’s that simple. Had Lowell scored on one of them earlier in the game, the 5-on-3 might not have been such a nervous situation. The fact that Lowell attempted 19 shots on net in those power plays is good. The fact that only seven actually got there is bad.

So sure, the team is now 1-2-0 on the season and still below .500, but it’s hard not to be encouraged with a pair of performances like this. If Lowell can clamp down on fixable mistakes (and giving up a 5-on-3 at a critical juncture on the road falls in that category), it can not only skate with anyone, as it could last year, it can BEAT anyone. And yes, there is a difference. This series, and more specifically the way the River Hawks played in it, proves that they are absolutely for real this year.

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