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Friday thoughts: One to go

March 6, 2010

That was unbelievably fun.

Sure Lowell let Vermont hang around for a little while and we almost experienced a feeling that approached concern. But as with the game against Northeastern in the Hockey East semifinal last year, even when Vermont went up, there was never a point at which we were truly nervous or doubted that the win was Lowell’s for the taking.

In fact, we had talked about our complete lack of nerves over the pending result at lunch. While the gravity of the situation wasn’t lost on us, we were behaving as though Lowell had already picked up the two points, only six hours ahead of time. This was a W that, as far as we were concerned, was never in doubt.

It’s nice having that feeling.

Scott Campbell scored on a dribbling shot, reminiscent of his goal at Providence last week, late in the first period after the teams traded chances for the opening quarter of the game, and all seemed right with the world. While Lowell hadn’t exactly dominated territorially or in shots, it was certainly dictating pace and perhaps simply not getting the bounces it needed until the Campbell goal. Vermont was completely perplexed both by Lowell’s forecheck and its delightful desire to lay a body into the nearest Catamount at every opportunity. We were big fans of the way Lowell played in every zone, but one defensive gaffe behind the net pulled an undeserving Vermont team even completely against the run of play. And the first period ended at 1-all and, we have to say, we felt a bit hard done by.

Shots were, somehow, 14-6 Vermont, but only a handful of those chances had been of particular quality and indeed, the Catamounts’ two power plays were a bit underwhelming, while Lowell’s one and only chance with the man advantage resulted in the Campbell goal (though six seconds after the expiration of the penalty).

If we were to liken the first period to anything colloquial, we’d say it was not unlike the way a cat will bat around a hapless, helpless mouse before pulling its innards out with one deft swipe of its terrible claws and feasting on the hot viscera of its prey, because the second period began and any hope of a Vermont win ended about five minutes later. Once again, Vermont got a goal despite Lowell dominating play from the outset. The River Hawks outshot the Catamounts 4-1 in the 3:10 prior to that goal, and while Brayden Irwin’s shot was a cracker — Carter Hutton never had a chance at defending against it thanks to a screen and its having been surgically placed into the upper-90 blocker side — it didn’t change the fact that Lowell had the game firmly by the scruff of the neck.

Just 2:52 later, Kory Falite broke up a D-to-D pass at center ice and broke in on Rob Madore, the poor schlep, who could do nothing but watch as Lowell’s sniper supreme roofed the puck with all the aplomb we’ve come to expect to pull Lowell even. The Catamounts’ coffin, which had already begun to be lowered into the grave’s cold embrace, was hit by the first shovelful of dirt. And when Ben Holmstrom scored 3:33 after that, it was an absolute avalanche of earth. (And what a play by both Pat Cey to dig the puck out of the corner along the very margin of legality and by Kory Falite to beat Madore — again — but hit the post, allowing Holmstrom to tap home the rebound.)

From then on, the victory was assured as Lowell almost immediately drew a penalty added its third goal of the period on the resultant power play. And what a power play it was! Not only did Lowell hold possession in the zone for more or less the entirety of the man advantage before Chris Auger buried it with a beautiful wrist shot from the middle of the point (the puck may have skipped out of the attacking zone once, but it was in no way cleared by Vermont), but it moved the puck around with ease. D-to-D, D-to-wing, low-to-high. Vermont just stood still and watched. What else could it do?

And that characterized the game’s remainder as well. Vermont had waved the white flag, conceding defeat and acknowledging that it could do nothing to prevent Lowell taking what it wanted. Or so we thought. Then, with Vermont on the power play and 4:06 remaining until Vermont’s clock ticked ever so close to midnight, Kevin Sneddon called timeout. Not a terrible decision. We were focused on the draw in the Lowell zone when someone down the row from us said, “Hey, they pulled Madore.” And indeed they had. It was a decision that was questionable in the same way the Pacific Ocean is filled with water: “obviously quite.” Lowell’s vice-like new penalty kill was once again impenetrable (Vermont was 0 for 6 and held to one shot or fewer on five of them) and an indescribably funny takeaway at center ice by Chris Auger on an entirely unawares Drew MacKenzie led to an empty-net goal less than a minute after Sneddon’s grand experiment began. All in all, a sound coaching decision.

After that disparate disadvantage in shots on goal for the first period, Lowell bossed Vermont around to the tune of a 21-13 edge over the final 40 minutes and had the game, as the kids say, on lock.

And while not every other match broke as Lowell’s way across the league, the win at least guarantees that Lowell sits in the catbird seat for home ice. We believe the expression is, “Win and you’re in.” After tonight’s game, you’ve shown you can accomplish it with ease, and that you deserve it.

So do that, River Hawks. We’ll see ya tomorrow night.

Go ‘Hawks go!

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