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Saturday thoughts: I was a skeptic at first

February 19, 2012

We’re sure that Friday night’s game was a good opportunity for those across Hockey East to have a good laugh at Lowell’s lot.

The first-place spot the River Hawks had captured the previous week must have been come by fraudulently — just look at how soft their schedule was — and if we’re being honest, their giving up 10 goals to BC in November was likely more indicative of what they truly are than the intervening three months of hockey. Giving up seven goals to a BU team that had lost two straight and three of its previous five was all the evidence needed to figure out that Lowell was coming back down to its rightful spot: somewhere outside home ice.

Friday, after all, was proof that Doug Carr isn’t as good as the stats and that Lowell can get pushed around pretty easily on home ice. Seven goals, you see, is seven goals, no matter which way you slice it. It had nothing to do with BU converting on almost literally every chance it had or being gifted breakaways by the bucket. It had to do with BU “flexing its muscles” while Lowell got sand kicked in its face.

So what, then, does Saturday show?

It shows that despite one admittedly awful defensive performance this weekend, Lowell is still very worth of consideration among the class of Hockey East, and that if Lowell can get a bounce or two a game, it can bury any opponent anywhere. We noted last night that BU’s incisive finishing was what led to the Terriers netting seven goals and Lowell’s lack thereof limited it to only — “only” — four. On Saturday night, and in their home rink, BU, as if by magic, stopped being able to put every half-decent chance into the back of the net.

The games, in fact, were almost a complete reversal of one another. Lowell took what chances it got and rifled them past Kieran Millan, BU took what chances it had and let them go by the wayside. It’s not rocket science and it’s certainly not surprising. This is the kind of thing that happens in hockey all the time.

Heck, this game even featured Lowell scoring in the early going despite BU having control of the run of play, a trope copped from the previous night’s game, but unlike Friday, the River Hawks didn’t immediately buckle under the Terriers’ increased intensity. Where it had taken BU less than two minutes to respond at Tsongas Center, Lowell instead held the lead through the end of the period, drew a penalty after the goal, and then survived a BU power play immediately thereafter. Clearly, Lowell was not about to be drawn into another tit-for-tat penaltyfest.

But the key difference between Friday and Saturday was not Lowell’s discipline or its ability to convert chances, but rather the way in which it prevented BU from getting the myriad quality scoring chances it had generated the night before. Let’s be clear here: Lowell allowed 41 shots in the game, but 22 of them came in the third period when BU, ultra-talented and determined, was pressing harder than any team we’ve seen this season. Of course, Carr was equal to all but two of those 41 shots, and saved 21 of 22 in the third period alone.

Lowell played phenomenal hockey in all three zones. Opportunistic in attack, staunch through the neutral zone (though not as often when they carried the puck), and composed in defense. Look at the first goal by — who else? — Scott Wilson. BU was about to start carrying it up the ice, but Riley Wetmore forced a turnover and Wilson did a turn-and-fire off the post and in with a gorgeous, gorgeous shot. Wilson also did a great job to front the net on his second goal, which made it 2-1 to Lowell, as a strong rush allowed Riley Wetmore to drop it off to Chad Ruhwedel, who then put a perfect deflection-level shot on goal. That goal was timely because it came so early on in a five-minute power play that the Terriers had to remain very much on their heels. (And that power play, by the way, came as a result of a dictionary-definition hit from behind on David Vallorani by Sahir Gill, and did little to disprove our notion that BU is by far the dirtiest team in the league.)

But neither of Wilson’s goals were the most important of the game. That honor goes to Dan Furlong, who now has two goals on the season against BU, and not just because it stood up as the game-winner. That goal, which came with just 26.2 left in the second period, made a one-goal game a two-goal game and, as we all know, goals in the first or last minute of a period can be huge for shifting momentum. Where seconds before, the Terriers had likely felt pretty good about having to only generate one goal in the final 20 minutes to pull even again at home against a team they’d just trounced, having the deficit doubled must have been particularly deflating.

That’s not to say, again, that this didn’t lead to a significant amount of trying. Those 22 shots in the third period weren’t the kind of old-days Providence College shots where they would put it on net from the neutral zone on purpose. Those were 22 in-your-face high-pressure shots that Carr and the Lowell defense did a good job of turning aside. And even in that tumult, Chad Ruhwedel, who had just a phenomenal game, still managed to stretch the lead to 4-1 with a water bottle-popping beauty early in the period. BU eventually got that goal back, but came no closer.

The truth revealed in this weekend is that Lowell continues to be the better team than BU, and really only lost because it struggled mightily on Friday. It still ran that game from front to back, and would have gotten credit for doing so had BU not put home seven. We understand how homerish that sounds, but to give up seven goals on 30-something shots is wholly uncharacteristic of this team and frankly, no one in the nation is good enough to do that to a team as defensively strong as the River Hawks more than once. Lowell, despite giving up seven, comes out of this series having outscored its opponent considerably both on aggregate (15-10) and on average (5-3.33).

The fact remains that Lowell has now won all but one of its available season series, and no team besides Boston College has managed to beat Lowell twice. And if that’s not flexing Hulk Hogan-sized muscles, not in one game, but all season long, we can’t begin to understand what is.

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