Friday thoughts: Like tears in the rain
Coming into this series, no one seemed all that willing to give Lowell the benefit of the doubt that it was indeed the far superior team.
There seemed to be a few reasons for this, though none of them were very good. First was the fact that Maine was “the hot team” in Hockey East, a concept so laughable, and based wholly on two results against a stumbling UNH team, that we don’t know where the perception arose in the first place apart from the lower depths of some disrespector’s particularly bias-addled brain. Second was the fact that this Lowell team had lost to Maine twice this season, with those two losses coming as the team conceded four goals in each, though this too ignored the fact that Lowell’s No. 1 was not between the pipes for any of those three games, one of which the River Hawks still one. Third was the fact that the Black Bears and River Hawks were ancient foes, an Ahab and Moby-Dick with the whale the one-sided winner, as Lowell had taken just one win in their 16 attempts in the playoffs, despite the fact that none of those games were played in Lowell and the events of the mid-1990s had as much bearing on this series in 2013 as Super Bowl XVII.
That Lowell won 2-1 in overtime tonight came as little surprise to us, because we thought about this series with our heads. The only surprise was that Maine didn’t go down quite so easily as we expected, or would have liked.
The reason for that obstinance on the part of these visitors was largely that Lowell had little or no interest in avoiding uncharacteristic trips to the penalty box. That kind of thing was typically the domain of the Black Bears this season, as they were second in league play at 14.1 PIM a night (compare that to Lowell’s 11.4). And when the game was played at anything other than even strength, the River Hawks looked rather out of their element, going 0 for 5 on the man advantage tonight, conceding Maine’s third power play goal of the weekend, and generally looking out of sorts in all three zones.
That was at least somewhat baffling because, well, the team had to know at that at some point Joey Diamond was going to do something extremely stupid and get himself a major penalty. It ended up happening twice. The first came on a bit of an iffy call — predicated largely on Diamond’s reputation as a dirtbag, we’re sure — as he was directed toward the net when he beat a Lowell defenseman around the corner, and ended up railroading Connor Hellebuyck. We’d have been not at all shocked to see the infraction called a minor, as we will again note that he didn’t go that route totally of his own volition, but he also did absolutely nothing to avoid flattening the Lowell netminder. That it he was assessed the five-minute major, well, that’s Joey Diamond for you.
But again, Lowell did nothing at all of note on the ensuing power play, or indeed in the remainder of the period, except for a Scott Wilson breakaway attempt stopped with a fabulous glove save from Martin Ouellette, who was the only reason his team didn’t lose by six on aggregate in their curtain-dropping series, with 8:21 to go in the first period. That chance was the best of a number of quality opportunities that Lowell was able to generate when it actually got to the net, but that real estate was hard to come by for both teams all night and all weekend.
Lowell held Maine to six shots in the period and looked to get off to a similar run in the second, and Terrence Wallin’s breakaway attempt about five minutes in seemed like it might have gone in, but a review found otherwise. A few minutes later, Riley Wetmore took a bizarre holding penalty that was so flagrant it might have actually been a horse collar, and Devin Shore staked Maine to a lead with a power play goal just 11 seconds later to make things interesting.
Things settled down once again (apart from an unnecessary Diamond roughing major just nine seconds after the goal), until Maine’s senior captain did the only thing you’d ever expect him to do: Make a needless, almost inexplicably dirty play 190 feet from the puck, give Lowell another five-minute power play, get tossed from the last game of his college career, and throw a temper tantrum on the way to the showers for good measure. The penalty itself was so remarkably unnecessary that it’s both shocking and entirely unshocking that it happened to Diamond; he got tangled up with Joe Houk in the right corner of Maine’s end and both were down on the ice while play went the other way. With ‘Hawks and Bears alike whacking away at the puck around Hellebuyck’s crease, Diamond got to his feet but grew frustrated with his inability to free himself from Houk, so he did the only logical thing any borderline criminal degenerate would do: He stomped on the Lowell defenseman’s leg. This all happened in full view of two officials, who immediately advised Diamond his night and his career had come to an end. The captain — again, we stress this dangerous maniac who undoubtedly cost his team results with his dumb penalties numerous times in his freshman, sophomore and junior years was actually named a captain — then began gesticulating wildly, and slammed his stick against the boards like a spoiled 7-year-old, which tends to support our theory that this was roughly the age at which he stopped developing mentally. His line in the record book in the final game of his career looks like this: No shots on goal, and four penalties for 22 minutes. What a player. Good riddance.
Lowell didn’t score on that five-minute major, which would have felt wonderful, and though things were starting to look dire, the team could rest easy knowing that the Black Bears’ only offensive threat was likely throwing equipment and breaking stools in the dressing room like a stupider, uglier Dean Portman at the injustice of it all. But though the goal didn’t come there, it did come just 1:56 later thanks to a wonderful individual effort from Scott Wilson.
Wilson broke into the zone as the puck-carrier on a 2-on-2, deked around a sliding Maine defenseman, and put a shot on Ouellette from the left wing. That was saved, so he collected it again and tried a wrap-around at the other post. That too was saved, but the puck just sat there, and Michael Fallon swooped in to poke it home. This goal, too, was reviewed, but even with Eternal Archnemesis Jeff Bunyon working the game, it was allowed to stand. At that point, Maine began to sag once again, and held on for dear life to even get to overtime.
About a minute and a half into that extra period, Lowell started to work some magic, got a turnover in its defensive end and poked it out to the neutral zone. Derek Arnold won a battle along the boards and the loose puck squirted out to Wilson, who broke in on a 2-on-1 with Christian Folin, then deferred to the freshman defenseman. The initial shot was saved, but in the madness that reigned immediately following, Maine defenseman Mark Nemec took out his own goaltender. Ouellette was lying on the ice, facing the wrong way, only a few feet from his crease, but it must have felt like a mile as Michael Fallon tried and failed to knock it into the net himself. Arnold was the late-arriving skater and, with 24 square feet to shoot at, didn’t miss. They reviewed that too, for about six or seven minutes, because they thought it was a hand pass from Fallon, but it all worked out in the end.
So what’s the takeaway? It’s that being hot doesn’t matter, especially when you’re not hot. Maine finished the season having won just two of its final seven games, and proved the moniker so eagerly foisted upon it so eagerly by the college hockey media to be ill-fitting at best.
It’s that Maine wasn’t the better team no matter what the season series worked out to be. They scored just three goals in 121:50, none of them at 5-on-5, and in fact were outshot when things were even-up an embarrassing 47-28. The only reason these games were close is because of that 121:50, more than one-third was played at special teams. The power play and penalty kill, by the way, is something Lowell will very obviously have to work out before next weekend. Both were unusually bad.
And finally, it’s that all 15 of those previous losses to Maine mattered not at all, and only served as a vaguely interesting storyline if you looked at it like a Magic Eye poster, since focusing on it made you see nothing but nonsense. These Lowell players are going to be said to have exorcised 20-something years worth of demons with this win, but all it really did was exorcise the detestable Joey Diamond from Tsongas Center forever, and in doing so advance to the Garden for the league semifinals. Those latter two things matter a lot more to us than anything else.