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Quarterfinal preview: Fire in the belly

March 14, 2013

The Lowell River Hawks (22-10-2, 16-9-2 HE) vs. the Maine Black Bears (11-17-8, 7-12-8 HE)

7 p.m. Thursday at Tsongas Center, Lowell, Mass.
7 p.m. Friday at Tsongas Center, Lowell, Mass.
TBA Sunday at Tsongas Center, Lowell, Mass. (if necessary) (not necessary)

Lowell finished first in Hockey East with 34 points from 27 games, and Maine finished eighth in Hockey East with 22 points from 27 games.

Last three games
Lowell — 4-1 at Providence, 0-3 vs. Providence, 3-1 at Merrimack
Maine — 4-4 at UNH, 4-3 at UNH, 4-4 vs. Northeastern

Prior meetings
Lowell trails Maine 31-76-3, all-time.

Season series
Maine beat Lowell 2-1.

The first game was one of the few Lowell won before the month of December started, and even then it didn’t look great in squeaking out a 2-1 home win, keyed by Josh Holmstrom and Riley Wetmore goals, and a 24-save performance from Doug Carr.

The next night, though, things didn’t go so well. It may have been the second time all season the team scored three goals not counting an empty-netter at Colorado College, but it was the fourth time it gave up four or more, despite outshooting the Black Bears 30-22. This was our first real sign of concern for the first half of the season, because prior to that, Lowell had only been beaten by very good teams (BC and Denver).

Then, in the midst of the team’s only mini-slump since all the winning started, Maine also took a 4-3 decision in Orono, this time with the help of an extra period. Joey Diamond, a known dirtbag, had the game-winner thanks to a wonderful tape-to-tape pass from Josh Holmstrom that found Diamond alone at the blue line. Carr made just 25 saves on 29 shots in that one.

Top scorers
Lowell:
Joe Pendenza — 32 GP, 12-22-34 (27 GP, 9-20-29 HE)
Scott Wilson — 33, 12-17-29 (27, 10-15-25)
Derek Arnold — 33, 10-15-25 (27, 10-10-20)
Riley Wetmore — 32, 15-9-24 (27, 13-8-21)
Josh Holmstrom — 33, 11-12-23 (27, 10-7-17)

Maine:
Joey Diamond — 31 GP, 14-10-24 (24 GP, 12-8-20 HE)
Devin Shore — 36, 4-19-23 (27, 3-16-19)
Ben Hutton — 32, 4-11-15 (23, 4-9-13)
Steven Swavely — 36, 6-8-14 (27, 5-5-10)
Kyle Beattie — 24, 7-6-13 (17, 5-3-8)

Goaltending
Lowell:
Doug Carr (20-7-1) — 19 GP, 1,052:29, 2.79 GAA/.897 sv% (15 GP, 863:12, 3.06/.889 HE)
Connor Hellebuyck (14-2-0) — 17, 968:22, 1.49/.945 (13, 738:08, 1.38/.948)

Maine:
Martin Ouellette (9-10-8) — 28 GP, 1,637:26, 2.38 GAA/.917 sv% (25 GP, 1,506:53, 2.43/.915 HE)

Team stats
Lowell:
Overall (34 games) — 104 goals for (3.06/gm), 75 goals against (2.21/gm). Power play 29/169 (17.2%, 5 SHGA), penalty kill 117/136 (86.0%, 6 SHGF)
Hockey East (27 games) — 81 goals for (3.00/gm), 63 goals against (2.33/gm). Power play 24/144 (16.7%, 4 SHGA), penalty kill 97/114 (85.1%, 5 SHGF)

Maine:
Overall (36 games) — 74 goals for (2.06/gm), 98 goals against (2.72/gm). Power play 22/172 (12.8%, 3 SHGA), penalty kill 128/158 (81.0%, 6 SHGF)
Hockey East (27 games) — 57 goals for (2.11/gm), 72 goals against (2.67/gm). Power play 18/129 (14.0%, 0 SHGA), 97/122 (79.5%, 5 SHGF)

Lowell’s leaders vs. Maine
Riley Wetmore — 15 GP, 7-3-10
Joe Pendenza — 8, 1-4-5
Derek Arnold — 9, 1-4-5
Colin Wright — 10, 4-1-5
Chad Ruhwedel — 9, 1-3-4

Doug Carr (3-5-0) — 8 GP, 442:20 minutes, 3.25 GAA/.896 sv%

Lowell’s playoff leaders
Riley Wetmore — 8, 2-4-6
Zack Kamrass — 5, 1-3-4
Scott Wilson — 5, 1-2-3
Josh Holmstrom — 5, 2-0-2
Joe Pendenza — 5, 0-2-2

Doug Carr (2-3-0) — 5 GP, 303:49 minutes, 2.57 GAA/.929 sv%

Outlook
Lowell has a lot of reasons to be pretty fired up for this series.

The most obvious reason is that this is the playoffs, and any steps forward it can take toward solidifying its already-pretty-solid position in the national standings and in doing so definitively qualify for the NCAA tournament for the second year in a row, the better. Plus there’s the whole fact of getting to the Garden and playing for a league postseason championship to go with the regular-season title, which has to be an attractive thought for Norm Bazin and crew.

Second is that this Lowell team crashed out of the quarterfinals spectacularly to the seventh-ranked Friars after sweeping them just a week before, in part due to the fact that the entire team had the flu and Riley Wetmore seriously injured his hand and played anyway. But no excuses made by the River Hawks allowed them to advance to the Hockey East semifinals, and in truth was a little embarrassing to have lost to a team so bad as all that.

Third is that, as you’ll read from every garbage college hockey publication this week (and probably heard from a few already), Lowell lost the season series to Maine through a pair of 4-3 defeats, one of which was embarrassingly at Tsongas Center and gave Maine its first win against a team that wasn’t Army. You’re probably smart enough not to buy Norm Bazin’s talk that Lowell is the underdog in this series, but Lowell should at least be able to gin up enough spite out of those two losses, which almost cost it the regular-season title among other embarrassing results (the home draw against Vermont, only tying Northeastern, losing to Providence on senior night, etc.), that there should be sufficient motivation to not come out as flat as they did at home last weekend.

Plus there’s all the pride on the line, and the poetic justice of playing one of the Big Four as the first Other Six team to win the regular-season title, which could give the team the chance to prove it wasn’t some sort of cosmic fluke that allowed these two squads to end up at these very strange, unfamiliar, opposite ends of the spectrum.

And with all that motivation, we don’t see how Lowell loses this series. The one thing all the dullards who keep saying, “Yes, well, Lowell lost two games to Maine this season,” will certainly not point out is that Lowell’s 14-2-0, 1.49/.945 netminder played precisely zero seconds in any of those games. That might, we think, have a fairly big impact on the way all this goes; there’s no question Martin Ouellette seemed to have the better of Doug Carr this season (in that he didn’t give up nine goals in three games), but he still wasn’t very good against the River Hawks, and one gets the feeling that Hellebuyck won’t be so generous in doling out the goals to a Black Bear squad with one person — the irascible Joey Diamond — has more than seven goals. If Chad Ruhwedel and Co. can hold Johnny Gaudreau without a shot on goal in a game at BC, bottling up Diamond seems to not be the most difficult task with which they’ll be faced all year.

None of this is to say that Maine isn’t perfectly capable of giving teams fits — look at what they did to UNH last weekend, also all on the road — but while people would like to call them the hottest team in Hockey East right now, we’d kindly point out they’ve won two of their last five games, three of which were played against Amherst and Northeastern.

It just seems to us that you can boil any series down like this: Which team has the best offense? Which has the best defense? Which has the best special teams? In all three cases, the answer is Lowell, and while the River Hawks learned last year that factors outside those can certainly affect all that, and sometimes to the point of the worse team unseating the better, but there’s a reason it almost never happens, mitigating circumstances aside. And that’s because better teams tend to win out on a long enough timeline.

Are we really talking about the possibility of a Maine team with nine league wins this season beating Lowell four times out of a possible six? It seems extremely unlikely to us.

Lowell in a sweep. See you in Boston. Go ‘Hawks go.

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