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Saturday thoughts: To dream the impossible dream

March 3, 2012

We entered the weekend anxious to see Lowell turn up the heat on Providence as part of its pursuit of not only a solidified home ice chance and perhaps a finish as high as second, but also of the sure-thing NCAA playoff spot that had eluded the program lo these last 16 years.

And in the end, we got everything we wanted thanks to some extremely lucky out-of-town results both last night and tonight, as well as a pair of emphatic command performances from a team that long ago stopped having to thumb their noses at the slack-jawed idiots who somehow continued to think they were not “for real.”

Yes, Lowell returned home from their triumphant trip to a personal mountain on Friday and found themselves on similarly favorable footing back at Tsongas Center, where they breezed to a 4-2 victory that, as with the previous night, was assured relatively early on, though perhaps not with as much oomph behind it.

First things first is that we should note Doug Carr got the night off in favor of Marc Boulanger, who proved himself pretty adequate in this one, but he also had the luxury of playing behind a pretty determined Lowell team. The hosts never allowed more or less than eight shots in a period, and itself never had fewer than nine, but increased those totals as the game went on. By the time the hellacious game was over, Lowell outshot Providence 35-24 in the game, and 72-48 on the weekend.

Neither Boulanger nor Carr had much to do in the way of stopping high-quality chances, and if we’re being honest, the two they scored tonight were complete garbage and of questionable validity. The first came because Andy Balysky actually did a good job in carrying it around a defender down low and driving to the net, but in doing so, he bumped into Boulanger and popped the net up and down off its moorings as the puck crossed the line. Now, with the 2009 Hockey East title game — and Joe Bertagna’s flimsy explanations of The Non-Goal — still seared into our minds like cattle brands, we knew that by league rules, if the goal even goes up and back down on its moorings, the goal shouldn’t count. But hey what the hell, it was 2-0 Lowell at the time of the goal (we’re getting to it) so what, in the end, was the difference?

The same logic was clearly applied to Providence’s second goal, a marker that defines meaningless, which came with 11 seconds left in a game that was then 4-1. Boulanger covered the puck on a mad scramble, was pushed into the net, had it count. Again, it ends up mattering not at all.

And those goals were so insignificant as to not warrant mentioning except in passing because of how well the River Hawks played tonight. And where last night’s game was certainly driven by the top line of Wilson, Wetmore, and Arnold, tonight was stewarded from start to finish by a monstrous output from the Pendenza-Ferreira-Wallin group. Altogether, they combined for Lowell’s first, third, and fourth goals and finished the night with a total of three goals and as many assists.

Two of those belonged to Pendenza, and were both the result of excellent tip-in efforts. The first, Lowell’s opener as well, came as Terrence Wallin stampeded into the attacking zone and produced a shot on net that generated a brief scramble. After the puck emerged from the tumult on a wide shot from Matt Ferreira, it once again found itself on Wallin’s stick, and the freshman fired a hard wormburner on net that Pendenza tipped past Alex Beaudry, who we should mention was much more composed tonight (he made it all 60 minutes!) but was still clearly in over his head.

That stood as Lowell’s only goal of the first period and shots were 9-8 in its favor, but anyone who was watching the game at that point had a clear understanding of who would soon become the No. 2 team in the conference and who barely snuck into the playoffs by a single point. Just 3:51 into the second period, Lowell saw its lead doubled on a strong play from Scott Wilson and goalscorer Derek Arnold, who had a whopper of a weekend. It didn’t take long for Providence to answer with its first fraudulent goal, but again, Lowell going up two all but assured the victory. This is a team incapable of scoring goals (except, apparently, when allowed to do so illegally) and so Lowell, even with its backup goaltender in net who had literally never won until tonight and hadn’t started since February 2011, was pretty much guaranteed victory.

Lowell took that 2-1 lead into the dressing room for the second intermission, but emerged having decided that was enough faffing about. Ferreira scored the game-winner just 103 seconds into the period, roofing a beauty backhand centering setup from Pendenza to stretch the lead to two again. Pendenza added to his team’s total again at 14:08, this time on the power play, off a strong cycle and a heavy, bombed-in point shot from Arnold. Again, Providence cut into that with 11 seconds to go but by then the River Hawks were already clearly checking their phones on the bench, watching the BU/NU game unfold.

So here we are at the end of the regular season, a spate of entirely unpredictable events having run together to create an actual universe in which Lowell is the second-best team in Hockey East, made all the easier with this big-time statement win. Believe it. And the guests for next week’s affair? This same Providence College team Lowell just drilled for nine goals in two nights and only allowed three against despite starting a backup for one of them.

We don’t envy Providence its fight against this foe.

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