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Sunday thoughts: Internal bleeding

March 11, 2012

The symptoms have been lingering for weeks.

They first began to manifest against Maine, then BU, then Merrimack, but each time there was enough to be dismissive, to say they were isolated and symptomatic of nothing malignant. The team seemed to make a full, unconditional recovery last weekend, but as it turned out, it was a small window of wellbeing in an otherwise grave and indeed life-threatening situation.

Providence — yes, that Providence — won in Game 3 of Lowell’s first home semifinal series in a decade, grinding out an intentionally groggy, uneventful, and more or less fatal 1-0 victory over a Lowell team that has 23 wins this season. We can’t begin to wrap our heads around it, but we’ll try, just for you.

Quite frankly, this was never a game in which Lowell looked like it was capable of competing. The first period was only okay, and the second period was an improvement, but the River Hawks never played well enough to win this game or indeed this series. They gave up a goal just seven minutes into the game and Providence immediately went to work choking the life out of the game. In what proved the final 20 minutes of its Hockey East schedule, Lowell was outshot by Providence 14-8.

People immediately began fishing for any rationalization they could muster as to how the River Hawks, who entered the weekend looking for all the world like a No. 1 or high No. 2 seed in the NCAA tournament, could have possibly lost to a team they lit up for nine goals just a few days prior. Were the River Hawks too tired? Too inexperienced? Too banged up?

Let’s address those points in order:

1) Was Lowell too tired? Yes, and that was by design on Nate Leaman’s part. He saw what plagued his team in the previous weekend’s series and made a lot of adjustments, all of which were planned to divert Lowell from it’s quick-transition, puck-possession game. And perhaps because of how well those two games had gone, Norm Bazin felt little or no need to change his team’s approach, which explains Friday’s loss, at least somewhat. But the team’s inability to adapt to Providence’s new approach was what ultimately doomed it, and really doesn’t make any sense. Providence is a team that cannot match Lowell’s speed, but Lowell continually let itself get slowed down instead, once again playing to the level of a vastly inferior team, which is something they did all season (against UConn, Vermont, and Providence).

2) Too inexperienced? Yeah, the River Hawks dressed a silly amount of underclassmen in this series. Just ix of its players tonight were either juniors or seniors, and its numerous sophomores obviously didn’t play postseason hockey last year. And, how, then, is that at all different from this team punked Maine twice in its own building, beat BC, beat BU twice, beat UNH twice, and so forth? And at the same time, saying how young Lowell is also ignores that no one, not one player, on Providence had ever played in the playoffs either, and that 11 of their players today were juniors or younger. The inexperience and youth excuses just do not hold water.

3) Too banged up? Well, that’s certainly true for Riley Wetmore, who we heard before the game had a broken right hand (and had done so early in the game on Friday — he only took eight draws in that one, and just four after the end of the first period, after taking 23 in each of the previous three), but who Bazin said had a “lower-body injury.” He was in the lineup nonetheless, but routinely was held out of his regular shifts, and instead played on the fourth line instead of his usual get-along gang of Scott Wilson and Derek Arnold, the latter of whom seemed particularly lost today. Wetmore also, according to our eyes, and confirmed by the box score, was unable to take a single draw all night, and managed just one shot. Bazin also admitted Wetmore just shouldn’t have played. Apart from that, we’re not sure that anyone was playing with an injury significant enough to warrant this excuse. This time of year, the saying goes, everyone’s dinged up.

So let’s just look at the game for what it is: David team playing its anti-hockey approach to perfection, and Goliath wholly failing to adapt in any way. Alex Beaudry was certainly very good for the visitors as he inexplicably had been all weekend, and Doug Carr is certainly blameless in both this game and series as far as getting rung up for two losses. And once again, the River Hawks also got killed on draws, winning just 27 of 64 — and again, there having been 64 in a 60-minute game is exactly what Leaman wanted. Let us also not discount that Providence also had two near-goals reviewed. The first, just 20 seconds or so after Ross Mauermann both opened and closed the scoring, came as Chad Ruhwedel cleared a trickler off the line, and the second was because a Friar played the puck with a high stick before his teammate put it past Carr. Again, Lowell’s superlative netminder is without sin here, having faced 36 shots.

The sad truth is Lowell scored just six goals in three games this weekend against a team that came in allowing 3.29 a night. It would have taken even more from Carr than Lowell got — which was a lot to begin with — to keep any team competitive in those. The offense simply didn’t show up tonight and really didn’t do anything to draw penalties either. Both teams enjoyed just one power play each.

The simple fact of the matter is that while Lowell backed into an assured NCAA tournament spot this weekend, it hasn’t played well enough to win anything of note in about a month. Lowell’s season hasn’t technically ended yet — though a one-game trip out to St. Paul or Green Bay will fix that — but it has won just four games from its last 10, and three of them were against the team to which it lost this afternoon.

We were criticized for saying the team played poorly this afternoon, but here’s the only takeaway necessary from this series: Lowell hosted and lost a best-of-three to Providence.

It’s going to be a long two weeks until Selection Sunday.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. rivercluck2006 permalink
    March 11, 2012 6:28 pm

    Doug Carr was the only Lowell player to show up to all three games of this series.

  2. Monty permalink
    March 13, 2012 9:25 am

    Selection Sunday is this Sunday I believe … it’s only going to feel like 2 weeks.

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