Thursday thoughts: Chilly Gillies
Anyone who looks at this game’s box score and says it must have been a close, physical, contested game because it finished 2-1 to Lowell isn’t completely wrong about that.
But the fact of the matter is that the only reason it finished anywhere near that close wears No. 32 for Providence College and put on a downright magnificent performance in stopping 48 of 50. But that tells the whole story right there, doesn’t it? Lowell put 50 (that’s fifty, five-zero) shots on Gillies and that it only scored twice was somewhat miraculous. The freshman netminder opposite Connor Hellebuyck, who was strong in his own right but not asked to do nearly as much in stopping either the quantity or quality of shots his counterpart faced, turned aside a good three or four pucks over the first two periods that absolutely should have hit twine and not pad.
To paraphrase Jurassic Park, Lowell found a way. It carried play throughout the game, registering 32 shots in the first two periods before putting up the final 18 in the third, and were only held off the scoresheet by Gillies’ brilliant showing, rather than anything the PC defense was doing to limit chances. There were lots of them. Take, for example, Gillies using his pad to stop Ryan McGrath and Derek Arnold from more or less the same spot at the bottom of the left faceoff circle in the first period, the former being far more important and impressive because it followed an egregious own-zone giveaway and gave McGrath a clean look (not that he put much on the shot). Or take the save that’s going to be on every highlight reel at the end of the season and was undoubtedly the play of the game, when he stopped Adam Chapie cold in the second period on a shorthanded 3-on-1 that featured some gorgeous interplay between all three Lowell attackers.
But that’s getting a little ahead of ourselves. Let’s circle back and say again that Lowell outright dominated this game in a very real and serious way. Yes, they gave up 32 shots to Providence, but that speaks to the wide-open nature of the game moreso than any kind of defensive ineptitude. There were more grade-A chances for the Friars than we would have liked, obviously, but you can’t complain too much when you only give up one goal.
However, with that having been said we will note that we aren’t feeling too great about the way Providence was able to successfully break Lowell down toward the end of each period. They spent vast stretches of the first, second, and third on their heels and hoping against hope that Gillies would bail them out (and far more often than not, he obviously did that) but as each frame wore on, the teams found those roles slowly reversed. This was particularly worrisome in the first and third periods, when Lowell was hemmed in its own zone for considerable stretches and Providence multiplied its shot totals for the period by three or four. Not that Hellebuyck and the defense weren’t up for the challenge, but getting worn down to a nub and waiting to be saved by the bell isn’t something we’d prefer against a team as decidedly mediocre as these Friars.
All the wearing-down on both sides obviously came to a head in the third period, when all three goals in the game were scored in the space of 4:29. The first came from McGrath and on the power play, which seemed more like one of those eventualities for which everyone just seemed to be waiting around than anything else, thanks to the Friars’ insistence on taking penalties pretty regularly throughout the game.
And so it was that Brandon Tanev got the puck on and tried to clear, but did so in a very strange way: by putting it along the ice and right at Christian Folin’s tape. Folin went to his opposite D Zack Kamrass, who then fed it through the seam created by Tanev scrambling around like an idiot, where it got to McGrath. And then the decision by the wily freshman to headfake Myles Harvey, who’s a pretty good Hockey East defenseman, instead of just shooting right away made all the difference. That bought him the space he needed, and Gillies just waved at the wrister as it went by him. Keen-eyed observers, by the way, will note that this goal came from pretty much the exact same spot from which he picked up his two assists at Vermont last weekend: just inside the top of the right circle. This time he didn’t need anyone to tip it for him, though.
Providence answered with a nice goal from Ross Mauermann (who else?) on a nifty bit of handsiness from Mark Jankowski to shake loose of two or three defenders. Hellebuyck didn’t have much of a chance coming across the goalmouth given that it was a nice shot, but that’s just how things go sometimes.
But for those who worried there might not be any more goals in this game given how both freshmen were playing between the pipes, Chad Ruhwedel — who was the best skater on the ice tonight by a mile or two — allayed those fears just 26 seconds after Mauermann leveled. The shot was a good enough one, given that it got on net, and the screen McGrath of all people (size-wise) was plenty to sneak it by Gillies.
We would be remiss, though, in not highlighting that the goal came from Ruhwedel, and the primary assist from Joe Houk. Then also please take note that the McGrath goal came from Kamrass and Folin. That’s four points from the defense, and that’s now officially a trend; in the last seven games, Lowell’s defensemen have seven goals and 18 assists. A legitimately crazy number, we’re sure you’d agree. Even moreso given that the D only had 1-8-9 in the first 13 of the season. Do you think there’s a reason Lowell’s on a nine-game PK run (the ‘Hawks went 2 for 2 tonight, those killers of 34 in a row), the power play is inching ever-closer to 20 percent, and the team has won eight straight.
We’ll put this as plainly as possible: We didn’t see much reason to be impressed with Providence apart from Gillies, and now, having sat through this game, we feel more or less the same way. If not for Gillies, this nationally-televised tilt is as much of a nailbiter as the Harvard game. Even if he doesn’t bring his A-plus-plus-plus game, it’s at least 3- or 4-1 instead of merely being 2-1. Anyone who tries to tell you different is a raving lunatic. This was only a tough loss for the Friars in the context of “their goalie kept them afloat when they were doing all they could to drill holes in the bottom of the lifeboat.” Lowell won anyway. On and on it goes.