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Tuesday preview: Kiss and makeup

February 26, 2013

The Lowell River Hawks (18-9-2, 12-8-2 Hockey East) vs. the Boston College Eagles (18-8-3, 13-7-2 Hockey East)

7 p.m. Tuesday at Conte Forum, Chestnut Hill, Mass.

Lowell is fifth in Hockey East with 26 points from 22 games, and BC is tied for first in Hockey East with 28 points from 22 games.

Last three games
Lowell  — 3-1 vs. BU, 3-0 at BU, 3-2 vs. Amherst.
BC — 2-1 (ot) at Merrimack, 4-4 (ot) vs. UNH, 1-2 (ot) at Merrimack.

Prior meetings
Lowell trails BC 32-60-7, all-time.

Season series
Lowell got pretty badly beaten in a weekend sweep by the Eagles back in late October, with BC winning 1-0 at Tsongas Center then 6-3 at the Heights. It wasn’t pretty at all.

Top scorers
Lowell:
Joe Pendenza — 29 GP, 12-16-28 (22 GP, 9-14-23 HE)
Scott Wilson — 29, 10-15-25 (22, 8-13-21)
Derek Arnold — 29, 8-13-21 (22, 8-8-16)
Riley Wetmore — 29, 13-6-19 (22, 11-5-16)
Josh Holmstrom — 29, 7-11-18 (22, 6-6-12)

BC:
Johnny Gaudreau — 26 GP, 15-22-37 (20 GP, 6-16-22 HE)
Steven Whitney — 29, 20-15-35 (20, 7-12-19)
Pat Mullane — 29, 14-20-34 (20, 10-8-18)
Bill Arnold — 29, 12-14-26 (19, 8-12-20)
Kevin Hayes — 26, 6-18-24 (20, 6-9-15)

Goaltending
Lowell:
Doug Carr (8-8-2) — 19 GP, 1,052:29, 2.79 GAA/.897 sv% (15 GP, 863:12, 3.06 GAA/.889 sv% HE)
Connor Hellebuyck (10-1-0) — 12, 668:22, 1.53/.942 (8, 438:08, 1.37/.946)

BC:
Parker Milner (18-7-3) — 28 GP, 1,684:31, 2.46 GAA/.920 sv% (21 GP, 1,275:22, 2.35 GAA/.924 sv% HE)

Team stats
Lowell:
Overall (29 games) — 89 goals for (3.07/gm), 68 goals against (2.34/gm). Power play 25/146 (17.1, 5 SHGA), penalty kill 92/109 (84.4%, 5 SHGF)
Hockey East (22 games) — 66 goals for (3.00/gm), 56 goals against (2.55/gm). Power play 20/121 (16.5%, 4 SHGA), penalty kill 72/87 (82.8%, 4 SHGF)

BC:
Overall (29 games) — 99 goals for (3.41/gm), 76 goals against (2.62/gm). Power play 24/111 (21.6%, 3 SHGA), penalty kill 120/140 (85.7%, 1 SHGF)
Hockey East (22 games) — 71 goals for (3.23/gm), 55 goals against (2.50/gm). Power play 20/88 (22.7%, 2 SHGA), penalty kill 96/108 (88.9%, 1 SHGF)

Outlook
Obviously we hate to categorize any game against Boston College as being a “must-win” particularly this late in the season and particularly given how poorly Lowell played against them earlier this season, but there are now so many mitigating factors at this point that it’s tough not to do so.

For one thing, and this is the most obvious reason to expect a different or at least less-lopsided result this time around, Lowell is no longer the steaming pile of garbage it was in the early stages of the year. Let’s not forget, prior to the start of December, Lowell was well below .500 and had only four wins, thanks in large part to an extremely difficult schedule but also to its own ineptitude against even bad teams (Maine, for instance. Vermont, for another). But since Dec. 8, Lowell has 14 wins from 17 games, and that’s a run that anyone who saw the River Hawks get it handed to them at the Heights around this time in October would find to be rather incredulous, and with good reason.

The River Hawks are now officially the hottest team in Hockey East, if not the nation, and the performances of the last two weeks — admittedly not against the toughest of opponents, though one supposes that could be said for most of this run of success — show that they are capable of playing just about any style they please and still win with relative ease. The way in which they smothered the Terriers on the weekend, for example, speaks pretty well to the commitment to total team defense needed to shut down Boston College’s top two lines, though matching against Johnny Gaudreau and company won’t be easy considering the Eagles have last change in this home game.

Another reason we’re feeling better about Lowell’s chances now than we probably have any right to is that the Eagles are plagued by injuries and suspensions. In watching the Merrimack/BC game on Sunday, it was often noted just how little experience the latter team had on the blue line in that game: four of their six defensemen were freshmen, and many of them were playing very limited minutes as a consequence. That means the guys who are healthy and experienced are carrying much heavier loads, and that has to wear on you at some point. Though with that being said we already think Michael Matheson, a freshman, is one of the best defensemen in the league, which explains why he was a first-round pick this past summer. Further, Kevin Hayes, an excellent forward for the Eagles, may or may not still be serving his team imposed suspension (which was levied for allegedly-hilarious reasons) and that’s helpful to Lowell given that he torched them for 2-1-3 in the last meeting between these teams.

What will be most interesting about the game though, and will go a long way toward deciding it, is which netminder Norm Bazin taps to start for the River Hawks, who could move into a tie for first with a win and a anything but a victory for Merrimack against BU (not that we’re holding our breath on the latter result).

The reasoning for starting Doug Carr, who has been anything but impressive this season, and in particular in all but the 1-0 loss to Merrimack in recent weeks, is that Lowell, as a consequence of the snow-storm postponement, now has to play five games in eight days, which is a lot. That can lead to a lot of fatigue, particularly for a goaltender who played 120 minutes on the weekend and would have only had two days off. However, it is our belief that throwing Carr out there against Boston College of all teams is more or less the equivalent of surrendering two points at a time when all will be extremely critical; he’s been freshman-year-Doug Carr bad, and we’d be more inclined to expect a performance like the 6-3 loss rather than the 1-0 loss to the Eagles earlier this year.

The reasoning for starting Connor Hellebuyck, on the other hand, is obvious. He hasn’t lost since October, and he has been good or excellent in every appearance he’s made since that loss to Denver. There’s a reason he’s started four games in a row, and it has little to do with Carr flaming out as a viable option. Now, normally we would agree with the unwashed masses who say you have to start Carr just to give Hellebuyck a rest, but if you think he actually had to do a lot of work against BU, we don’t know what game you were watching. He probably didn’t even have to shower after that Saturday game. Granted, the Eagles will likely give him a lot of work, which in turn could make the rebound against Providence tough, but with the way the defense has been playing in recent weeks, and the light workload he received from the Terriers, we see no reason not to start the kid. The fact remains he’s only made 11 appearances this year, and despite whatever held him out of the lineup for nearly a month, we can’t imagine he’s anything but fresh.

You have to give yourself the best chance to win all five games that remain on the regular season schedule. It’s that simple. We don’t see a way in which starting Carr against the best organization in college hockey today does that.

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