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Friday thoughts: …The wild cat did growl…

March 14, 2009

Well that works.

For the second time in three games against Vermont, Lowell battled back from a two-goal deficit late in the third period and forced overtime with an extra attacker. But because overtime in the playoffs doesn’t simply end in five minutes, it was eventually Maury Edwards that, with just two seconds to go in the first OT, put home a wicked wrister and gave Lowell the 4-3 overtime win in Game 1 of a three-game series.

Lowell actually trailed by two goals twice in the game. Vermont opened a 2-0 lead just 2:21 into the second period before Lowell pulled within one, but the Catamounts re-extended that lead early in the third. The tide in the game turned when Brayden Irwin leveled Mike Budd from behind along the boards, prompting the officials to whistle him for an automatic five-minute major and game misconduct. At this point, Blaise MacDonald judiciously used his timeout, and to great effect. Just 56 seconds later, David Vallorani popped a beautiful feed from Jonathan Maniff into an empty net. A little under six minutes later, Nick Schaus, who earlier had caught a slew foot from Corey Carlson (and that’s the most gutless play in the entire sport of hockey) and had to be helped off the ice, scored the game-tying goal with 30 seconds to go.

At that point, Lowell had to know that it had the much greater chance to win. Vermont, as it did on Feb. 20, had once again tried to sit on a two-goal third period lead only to have this strategy blow up in their stunned faces. They simply turned the puck over far too often in the critical final period and paid for it in blood.

Plus, Lowell had to be pleased that its economy of scoring chances (the ‘Hawks had but 16 shots through regulation and five each in the second and third period) were finding the back of the net just as often as Vermont’s, which posted 20 shots through 60 minutes. In the overtime period, though, both Carter Hutton and Rob Madore faced almost as many shots as they had in the first three, many of which were on Grade-A chances, with the former turning aside all 10 he saw and the latter 11 of 12.

Bad news, by the way, is that Mike Scheu, who has three goals against Vermont in as many career games, caught a puck in the chest last night and will be out for the remainder of the weekend.

What a mental edge this must give Lowell. It has to feel invincible headed into Game 2. Being two goals down against one of the stingiest defenses in Hockey East means absolutely nothing. Being two goals down in one of the toughest places to win in Hockey East means zip. Being two goals down to the No. 7 team in the country means nada. Lowell has consistently proven that, yes, it can grab a period against Vermont by the scruff of the neck and simply do things to the Catamounts that other teams cannot: bully them into surrendering third-period goals being and dictating the pace of the critical frame being foremost among them.

And now to the controversy: Vermont fans felt they had been rather hard done by because of the officiating. Irwin’s major? Ludicrous. Two minutes. Maybe. The no-call on Viktor Stalburg getting hooked to the ice while skating toward an empty net? Outrageous. And yet, Vermont had an entire overtime period (well, 1,198/1,200ths of one), in which it also had a power play, to rectify the situation and once again failed to do so. Frankly, Lowell only took three penalties in the game, and that’s how you win on the road regardless of other mitigating circumstances. Vermont was lucky to have escaped from regulation at all givent the amount of power plays it conceded.

Vermont was simply out-everythinged last night, and especially outcoached. Once in a while, we think about how much MacDonald does with the worst-funded team in Hockey East and we have to wonder where he’d be with UMass Amherst’s operating budget, let alone that of one of the private schools like BU or BC. We should count ourselves rather lucky to have him on our side. In the second half of this season especially, he seems to cajole top-notch performances out of his team in a way that few other coaches in Hockey East can.

One more of those and the ‘Hawks are through to the TD Banknorth Garden for the first time in forever. We can’t wait.

Oh yeah, and by the way, we will definitely be purchasing the B2 feed tonight and liveblogging the game for your enjoyment. We hope that those of you who didn’t make the trip will swing by and hang out with us for a bit, and drop comments whenever you feel the need.

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