Weekend preview: A matter of great import
The Lowell River Hawks (19-8-0, 14-7-0 HE) vs. the Boston University Terriers (15-6-5, 11-5-3 HE)
7:15 p.m. Friday at Tsongas Center, Lowell, Mass.
7:30 p.m. Saturday at Agganis Arena, Boston, Mass.
Lowell is first in Hockey East with 28 points from 21 games. BU is tied for second in Hockey East with 27 points from 21 games.
Last three games
Lowell — 1-2 vs. Maine, 3-0 vs. Merrimack, 6-4 vs. Vermont.
BU — 2-3 vs. BC (ot), 2-3 vs. Amherst, 3-1 vs. Northeastern.
Lowell trails BU 19-67-8, all-time.
Lowell pounded BU 7-1 at Tsongas Center on Nov. 5, which was more or less the first time everyone sat up and took notice of this remarkable team.
Scott Wilson — 26 GP, 13-15-28 (20 GP, 10-11-21 HE)
Riley Wetmore — 27, 9-19-28 (21, 6-14-20)
Derek Arnold — 27, 15-10-25 (21, 12-7-19)
Matt Ferreira — 26, 8-16-24 (20, 6-11-17)
David Vallorani — 27, 9-13-22 (21, 6-11-17)
Alex Chiasson — 27 GP, 11-20-31 (20 GP, 8-12-20 HE)
Matt Nieto — 26, 11-19-30 (19, 8-17-25)
Chris Connolly — 27, 5-22-27 (20, 3-21-24)
Adam Clendening — 27, 2-23-25 (21, 1-16-17)
Sahir Gill — 28, 10-13-23 (21, 9-10-19)
Doug Carr (18-5-0) — 23 GP, 1,393:44, 1.81 GAA/.935 sv% (19 GP, 1,140:43, 1.89/.935 HE)
Kieran Millan (15-10-1) — 26 GP, 1,541:39, 2.41 GAA/.926 sv% (19 GP, 1,100:57, 2.23/.933 HE)
Overall (27 games) — 93 goals for (3.44/gm), 60 goals against (2.22/gm). Power play 27/131 (20.6%, 3 SHGA), penalty kill 84/102 (82.4%, 5 SHGF)
Hockey East (21 games) — 69 goals for (3.29/gm), 49 goals against (2.33/gm). Power play 20/95 (21.1%, 3 SHGA), penalty kill 65/79 (82.3%, 3 SHGF)
Overall (28 games) — 96 goals for (3.43/gm), 74 goals against (2.64/gm). Power play 35/143 (24.5%, 1 SHGA), penalty kill 138/165 (83/6%, 8 SHGF)
Hockey East (21 games) — 75 goals for (3.57/gm), 53 goals against (2.52/gm). Power play 29/106 (27.4%, 0 SHGA), penalty kill 107/125 (85.6%, 4 SHGF)
This is, unequivocally, the biggest weekend of the year.
We said it last weekend, sure, but this is the real big-time series that will ultimately determine Lowell’s season. Win even once and you’re guaranteed to stay in first place for another week at least, as well as take what will likely prove to be a crucial season series guarantee. Win less than that and your world is suddenly filled with uncertainty, and creates a four consecutive must-win scenarios, which is a big ask for even the best team before the playoffs start.
All of that is easier said than done for either team. With all due respect to Boston College, these are the two best teams in the conference and we only wish these games were being played three weeks from now for all the marbles. But oh, the implications nonetheless. One of these teams could drop as low as fifth, from first and second, if things were to break in the right way (or, as far as they’re concerned, the exact wrong one).
Lowell hasn’t played in a regular-season series with this much importance either to themselves or for the league at large in a long, long time. This is at least the most important two-game set since Lowell swept Vermont in Burlington to advance to the Garden for the first time in forever a few years back.
Of course, that leads to a fairly large question: Can Lowell handle the pressure? Recent history indicates the answer is merely “maybe.” It took a while to break through against Merrimack but did a pretty good job of clamping down once the game was under control. But then that game against Maine. Granted the Black Bears were likely desperate to rescue points from the weekend after having been upset by Providence, but Lowell could have put some serious distance between itself and the field with a win there, and failed to put together a cohesive, sustained attack.
This is all complicated by Lowell having savaged the Terriers back in November, when both teams were hovering around .500 (their records after that tilt were a combined 6-6-1) and the River Hawks were just beginning to become the dominant force they have long since proven to be. In a lot of ways, that 7-1 W was the statement that Lowell hockey was for real, especially because it came the weekend after the squad was pumped by BC for 10 goals in two games. That figure, by the way, still accounts for some 17 percent of all the goals scored against the River Hawks all season. How much does that 7-1 win mean in the context of this coming series? Likely very little. Lowell is no longer a team BU will take lightly, which is the excuse to which Jack Parker and Co. cleaved desperately in the wake of that disastrous loss. Meanwhile, BU has made itself far more respectable since that game, climbing to No. 1 in the country once or twice if we’re not mistaken, though it has lost four of its last six games.
Of further interest is that both these teams should be eager to prove that their last games (or in BU’s case, its last two) were freak results. Lowell’s 2-1 loss to Maine was only the third time this season it has been held to one goal or fewer, and just its second home loss. The first game of this series being played in Lowell, then, becomes extremely important. If the River Hawks play the type of home game we all know they’re capable of — and we’re not talking 7-1 here — and wins, then that not only assures them the season series, but also heaps a tremendous amount of pressure on the Terriers to win the following night just to keep pace. BU, though, will look to rebound from its loss in the Beanpot final, a position to which the team is growing quite accustomed, if uncomfortably. It also needs to prove the home loss to Amherst of all teams was a fluke. But again, the Agganis faithful have now seen the Terriers drop three in a row at home, and that, too, is a mountain to climb.
We fully believe, and this is not just homerism and hubris, that Lowell can earn four points from these two games. As with last weekend, we don’t fully expect it, but it would be naïve to think a team of this quality couldn’t string together two wins against an opponent of any quality in any given weekend. But by the same token, we also believe BU can earn four points. And that’s why we’re so intrigued, excited, and anxious.
It should be, if nothing else, two fabulous hockey games between the two best clubs in the eastern half of the U.S. Oh and also a pair of Lowell wins by a combined score of something like 10-3. That too.
Go ‘Hawks go.