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Weekend preview: Are you ready?

February 23, 2012

The Lowell River Hawks (20-8-0, 15-8-0 HE) vs. the Merrimack Warriors (15-9-6, 11-8-4 HE)

7 p.m. Friday at Volpe Center, North Andover, Mass.
7 p.m. Saturday at Tsongas Center, Lowell, Mass.

Lowell is second in Hockey East with 30 points from 23 games. Merrimack is fifth in Hockey East with 26 points from 23 games.

Last three games
Lowell — 4-2 at BU, 4-7 vs. BU, 1-2 vs. Maine.
Merrimack — 1-2 vs. BC, 2-4 at BC, 1-1 vs. UNH (OT).

Prior meetings
Lowell leads Merrimack 68-34-8, all-time.

Season series
Lowell handled Merrimack pretty easily just two weeks ago, winning 3-0 after it finally solved Joe Cannata. The Warriors’ goaltender was the only reason the game wasn’t 7-0.

Top scorers
Lowell:
Scott Wilson — 28 GP, 15-16-31 (22 GP, 12-12-24 HE)
Riley Wetmore — 29, 10-21-31 (23, 7-16-23)
Derek Arnold — 29, 15-12-27 (23, 12-9-21)
Matt Ferreira — 28, 9-17-26 (22, 7-12-19)
David Vallorani — 29, 9-15-24 (23, 6-13-19)

Merrimack:
Ryan Flanigan — 29 GP, 8-17-25 (22 GP, 5-15-20 HE)
Jesse Todd — 29, 11-12-23 (23, 9-8-17)
Mike Collins — 28, 7-13-20 (21, 6-9-15)
Karl Stollery — 30, 7-13-20 (23, 4-11-15)
Jordan Heywood — 30, 4-12-23 (21, 3-9-12)

Goaltending
Lowell:
Doug Carr (19-6-0) — 25 GP, 1,495:46, 2.01 GAA/.930 sv% (21 GP, 1,242:45, 2.12/.928 HE)

Merrimack:
Joe Cannata (14-9-6) — 29 GP, 1,760:18, 2.15 GAA/.926 sv% (23 GP, 1,392:58, 2.24/.926 HE)

Team stats
Lowell:
Overall (29 games) — 101 goals for (3.48/gm), 69 goals against (2.38/gm). Power play 29/140 (20.7%, 3 SHGA), penalty kill 88/110 (80.0%, 4 SHGF)
Hockey East (23 games) — 77 goals for (3.35/gm), 58 goals against (2.52/gm). Power play 22/104 (21.2%, 3 SHGA), penalty kill 69/87 (79.3%, 3 SHGF)

Merrimack:
Overall (30 games) — 82 goals for (2.73/gm), 65 goals against (2.17/gm). Power play 24/136 (17.6%, 3 SHGA), penalty kill 125/154 (81.2%, 3 SHGF)
Hockey East (23 games) — 57 goals for (2.48/gm), 53 goals against (2.30/gm). Power play 17/91 (19.3%, 3 SHGA), penalty kill 96/119 (80.7%, 3 SHGF)

Outlook
This is always one of our favorite weekends of the year. Any time Lowell has a home-and-home with Merrimack, we get up for it. And this weekend in particular, we hope Lowell does too.

The River Hawks are no longer first in the conference (fun while it lasted) but given the Charmin-soft schedules both BU and BC have in the last two weeks of the season, it is of the utmost importance that Lowell pick up all four points this weekend. Anything less is death.

Unfortunately, Merrimack is just playing badly enough lately to make us worry. We’ve long been of the belief that Merrimack was a paper tiger, one that rode some lucky wins and a soft out-of-conference schedule (unforgivable considering they made the NCAA tournament last year) early in the year to a goodish record and a strong standing in Hockey East. They’ve borne that out by deteriorating rapidly as injuries and a tough schedule pile up, winning just one game in their last six, and that against Amherst. That little run of futility obviously includes the 3-0 loss to Lowell three weeks ago at Tsongas Center, in which this team showed us nothing whatsoever except that it has a good goalie.

This Merrimack squad has never had a good offense, and though it has the best team defense in the league, its margin for error is shockingly slim. The Warriors have allowed 53 goals this season — a staggeringly low number — but scored just 57. Lowell, for its part, has scored 20 more than that and only five more allowed. And during this ugly six-game stretch, the Warriors have scored a mere nine goals. That’s pretty bad, and worse if you consider that four of them came in that win. Worse, of the 53 goals Merrimack has allowed to Hockey East opponents this season, 17 of them have come in these six games. That’s more than 32 percent of the total season’s goals allowed in just 26 percent of the games.

Are the wheels coming off for the Warriors? It’s certainly possible. They’ve played themselves out of home ice and possibly an NCAA tournament spot, both of which looked pretty well assured just a month ago. And for that reason, this might be desperation time for Merrimack.

Not that Lowell doesn’t have its own concerns. It’s just 1-2 on home ice in its last three games, and though that win came against Merrimack, that there are losses at all is, on some level, a cause to worry. Things have to go absolutely perfectly from here on out. Again, Lowell should have no shortage of motivation for this weekend and next: Either you win out or you almost certainly don’t get the No. 1 seed and, again, another season series. In addition, the incentive to win on Friday should be increased because two points this weekend guarantees the River Hawks a home ice spot, something they haven’t had in a decade or so.

So the mission is clear. Win Friday. Win Saturday. Hope BC and BU lose. That’s it. Do it.

One Comment leave one →
  1. Bucky permalink
    February 24, 2012 10:35 am

    Agreed, this without any question the biggest Hockey East home-and-home series both teams will play against each other in their history. So much is on the line for both teams. Volpe Complex is going to be rocking tonight and looking forward to it.

    Bucky

    BTW, speaking of Volpe or Lawler, you have tonight’s game in Chestnut Hill.

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