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Saturday thoughts: A more perfect union

January 10, 2010

[Ed. note: You’ll have to bear with us through this one, as we will, at some point, talk about Lowell’s incredible first period. You see, we’d be able to give you far more informed opinions on it had we actually seen it, but NESN deemed the airing of the first period to be unnecessary to their broadcast of the game and thus we did not see a second of it. More on that Wednesday.]

This was, in our humblest of estimations, the result Lowell deserved. Now, those that perhaps only caught the third period, when Lowell formed a conga line into and the back out of the penalty box and in doing so allowed Northeastern to pepper Carter Hutton with 19 shots, might say that this was a game Northeastern deserved to win. And to understand why, we’ve got to go all the way back to 1:17 of the first period.

It was at that time, a mere 77 seconds after the opening puck dropped, that Chris Auger staked Lowell to its first lead of the game with a very nice shot as he rampaged into the slot, and in doing so ensured that it would never trail. This was the first of Lowell’s three consecutive first-period goals, and as Paul Worthington added his ninth of the year 6:36 later, and then Jeremy Dehner extended the lead again 3:27 after that, this much became evident: Lowell was not particularly pleased with its offensive showings in the last two, or even three, games and it was going to take out its frustrations on Chris Rawlings and the rest of his Northeastern cohorts.

Yes, Kyle Kraemer pulled his team back within two before the period ended, but it was quite clear at that point exactly which team was the better of the two, and exactly which team would emerge with a victory. Scott Campbell underscored the point with his first goal since the Reagan administration, the only tally of the second period, to regain the three-goal lead.

(It should be noted, by the way, that all four Lowell goals to this point were scored at even strength, and in fact, all of Lowell’s first six goals this weekend were at even strength, which was a stat of which we highlighted the importance on Thursday. That’s more told-ya-so stuff from your buddies at TIIL, whose knowledge of and love for hockey is so innate as to be preternatural and, frankly, disconcertingly prescient. You’re welcome.)

So the River Hawks entered the third period with a three-goal lead against a team that is, at every position, worse than them. And then they almost blew it. But the reason why is interesting.

First, the officials made it a complete circus act. After Jake Newton pulled NU back within two with a shorthanded goal during a penalty to Steve Silva, the chief punk on that Huskies team, and then Mike Scheu put his side up three for the third time in the game,  Lowell was called for every conceivable infraction, however slight, short of arson or petty larceny. First Ryan Blair went off for a ticky-tack crosscheck penalty (the guy he allegedly hit didn’t even fall down), then Jeremy Dehner went off for interference (after colliding with a player as they both reached for a puck that had been passed to the weak side of the ice) 1:14 later. And just 34 seconds after that, Maury Edwards was called for interference for clearing the dropped stick of a Northeastern player out of the crease while trying to kill a 5-on-3 power play.

Almost fortunately for Lowell, Kraemer got his second of the game to bring the Huskies back within two again one second after Blair’s penalty expired, allowing Lowell the distinct pleasure of only having to kill a normal 5-on-4 penalty. Lucky them. But they did it, and 3:33 later, they were rewarded with a weaksauce tripping call on Mike Scheu, whose stick was somewhere near a Husky who did a 360-degree attempt to clear a puck while off-balance and, shock of all shocks, fell down. But Lowell killed that one as well, and while certainly we were glad that the whole penalty situation was given a few minutes to cool down, we were still concerned about the legs of a team that had just killed (or attempted to kill) four penalties in the space of six minutes and 34 seconds. Those concerns, as it happens, were well-founded.

Jimmy Driscoll scored at 14:49 to cut the Huskies’ deficit to one, and that, too, would have been near-acceptable, except another flat-out ridiculous call for tripping against Steve Capraro put Lowell on the penalty kill for the fifth time in the period. We’re all for acknowledging a lack of discipline by the team we support — we ripped them for it in the last game against Northeastern, you’ll recall — and we understand that Lowell has given its opponents something like 20 power plays in its last three games prior to this game, so the tendency for an official must be to be on the lookout for Lowell infractions as a consequence. But this was just two refs making the game about themselves and whistling Lowell for everything it possibly could. We refuse to believe that Lowell drew three straight penalties in the first period, then committed three straight, then drew another, then committed five straight without some amount of Northeastern infractions being overlooked. That time the Northeastern forward ran into Carter Hutton in the third period? Probably not goaltender interference. Or when a Northeastern defenseman wrapped up Riley Wetmore following a soft dump, also in that third period? Also not a penalty, at least according to this new rulebook that was drafted between the similar call against Blair in the second and this one.

But okay, sure, five penalties in the third period against Lowell. Of course Northeastern was going to score on that power play. The crowd was already apoplectic following Driscoll’s goal, and we don’t begrudge the goals themselves either. The circumstances, on the other hand, were absurd, and tailor-made to lower a ladder up which Northeastern might pathetically clamber to make this, the first regular-season non-gimmick Hockey East broadcast something other than the horrific beating it was shaping up to be through 40 minutes.

But that fifth and final Northeastern goal had the opposite effect of what the Huskies would have liked. It was as if Lowell had sleepwalked through the period, wearied by the seemingly-relentless Northeastern power play, and that fifth and final goal had woken it up, alert and pissed off. Following the use of their timeout directly after the goal, the River Hawks poured everything to the net and made Northeastern play an up-and-down style that was only ever going to suit Lowell.

It was on just such a play that Scheu’s second goal, the overtime game-winner, developed, though there were a lot of factors involved. The first was that a failed attacking-zone entry by the Huskies gave Nick Schaus just enough time and space to go into puck retrieval mode — an underrated skill in defensemen if ever there was one — and, in one fluid motion, turn and fire the puck to Campbell, who had come back low into the neutral zone to receive just such a pass. Campbell quickly dished to Kory Falite, who carried down the left wing in a developing 2-on-1 rush with Scheu stampeding down the slot. Falite’s pass was perfectly placed, and Scheu simply redirected it past Rawlings for the win and two massive Hockey East points that, 10 minutes earlier, had seemed in dire peril.

It was a huge goal, and not just because it secured Lowell sole possession of a home ice spot, at least for now. It was huge for Scheu because he hadn’t scored in quite some time, and to get a brace tonight, against the team for which he almost played, must have felt great. It was huge for Falite, who finished with three points and was simply dazzling in attack again tonight, as he now has seven points (four goals, three assists) from his last five games. It’s huge for Campbell, who himself was having a run of dreadful offensive efforts before this weekend, as he wraps this two-game set with a goal and four helpers.

But most importantly, this gives Lowell a flag around which to rally. They overcame that third period to win on the road against a team that had beaten them just six days earlier and, in those two games, had gone on 17 power plays. This win is the kind that can galvanize a team. You might remember a similar game against Boston College last year, which was also on NESN, in which Lowell overcame some silly officiating-created odds (in that case, Lowell had TWO goals disallowed), and which the ‘Hawks won, also in overtime. Lowell won or tied 13 of the next 17 games after that. We like that precedent.

Glory, glory, hallelujah. The ‘Hawks go marching on.

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