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Saturday preview: A measure of revenge

March 30, 2013

The Lowell River Hawks (27-10-2, 16-9-2 HE) vs. the New Hampshire Wildcats (20-11-7, 13-8-6 Hockey East)

4:30 p.m. Friday at Verizon Wireless Arena, Manchester, N.H.

Lowell finished first in Hockey East with 34 points from 27 games, and UNH finished tied for third in Hockey East with 32 points from 27 games.

Last three games
Lowell — 6-1 vs. Wisconsin, 1-0 vs. BU, 2-1 vs. Providence.
UNH — 5-2 vs. Denver, 2-3 at Providence, 4-1 at Providence.

Prior meetings
Lowell trails UNH 32-58-15, all-time.

Season series
UNH swept Lowell under very different circumstances from what they’ll face tomorrow.

In the series opener, Lowell played one of its worst games of the season en route to a 3-0 loss in which they managed just 23 shots on goal.

Then, in the denouement of the River Hawks’ losing ways, UNH swept a weekend series behind a pair of 5-2 wins that galvanized Lowell into the juggernaut it is today. So, thanks for that, Wildcats.

Top scorers
Lowell:
Joe Pendenza — 39 GP, 14-23-37 (27 GP, 9-20-29 HE)
Scott Wilson — 39, 15-20-35 (27, 10-15-25)
Derek Arnold — 39, 13-16-29 (27, 10-10-20)
Riley Wetmore — 39, 15-11-26 (27, 13-8-21)
Josh Holmstrom — 39, 12-12-24 (27, 10-7-17)

UNH:
Kevin Goumas — 38 GP, 10-32-42 (27 GP, 7-20-27 HE)
Trevor van Riemsdyk — 38, 8-25-33 (27, 3-19-22)
Grayson Downing — 38, 15-16-31 (27, 9-10-19)
John Henrion — 38, 15-11-26 (27, 11-8-19)
Austin Block — 38, 15-8-23 (27, 11-8-19)

Goaltending
Lowell:
Connor Hellebuyck (19-2-0) — 22 GP, 1,270:12, 1.37 GAA/.950 sv% (13 GP, 738:08, 1.38/.948 HE)
Doug Carr (8-8-1) — 19, 1,052:29, 2.79/.897 (15, 863:12, 3.06/.889)

UNH:
Casey DeSmith (13-6-6) — 37 GP, 2,146:53, 2.24 GAA/.924 sv% (26 GP, 1,532:50, 2.04/.933 HE)

Team stats
Lowell:
Overall (38 games) — 113 goals for (2.97/gm), 79 goals against (2.08/gm). Power play 31/186 (16.7%, 5 SHGA), penalty kill 132/154 (85.7%, 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)

UNH:
Overall (41 games) — 111 goals for (2.71/gm), 83 goals against (2.02/gm). Power play 17/132 (12.9%, 0 SHGA), penalty kill 122/151 (80.8%, 4 SHGF)
Hockey East (28 games) — 69 goals for (2.46/gm), 64 goals against (2.29/gm). Power play 10/87 (11.5%, 0 SHGA), penalty kill 83/104 (79.8%, 2 SHGF)

Lowell’s leaders vs. UNH
Terrence Wallin — 6, 1-4-5
Scott Wilson — 6, 0-4-4
Riley Wetmore — 12, 1-3-4
Joe Pendenza — 9, 0-3-3
Chad Ruhwedel — 9, 0-3-3

Doug Carr (2-4-0) — 6 GP, 337:27, 3.20/.917
Connor Hellebuyck (0-0-0) — 1, 20:00, 3.00/.889

Lowell’s playoff leaders
Riley Wetmore — 13, 2-6-8
Scott Wilson — 10, 4-5-9
Joe Pendenza — 10, 2-3-5
Zack Kamrass — 8, 1-3-4
Josh Holmstrom — 10, 3-0-3

Connor Hellebuyck (5-0-0) — 5 GP, 361:50, 0.99/.967
Doug Carr (2-3-0) — 5, 303:49, 2.57/.929

Outlook
UNH took the season series from Lowell with an easy sweep, but in doing so prodded Norm Bazin’s club into becoming what it is today. In much the same way that Apollo Creed pummeling Rocky in their first fight spurred the Italian Stallion to get harder, better, faster, stronger (to borrow a phrase) so too did being humiliated on back-to-back nights straddling November and December spur the River Hawks to the greatness now before them.

A fourth win doesn’t necessarily seem in the offing.

We once again enter an NCAA tournament game, for the second time in two days, feeling Lowell is nigh invincible, after having taken in, with a mixture of growing horror and self-satisfied relish, what these River Hawks did to Wisconsin. That game was anything but pretty and featured just about everything but the referees tackling Ryan McGrath on his breakaway chance with just seconds to go and begging him for some sort of mercy on a team that had long since checked out mentally.

On the other hand, the casual observer would look at the UNH score against Denver in much the same way, but the difference between the two results in reality versus on paper is also the difference between the two teams. The Wildcats started their game out rather poorly, conceding twice on genuinely confusing defensive breakdowns that Tewksbury High doesn’t make in the course of a normal game, and only when Denver’s game plan devolved into everyone running around like lunatics and not playing the puck or their positions for more than two seconds at a time did the hosts start to gain a bit of purchase and assert themselves.

Not that this kind of thing hasn’t happened to Lowell in the not-so-recent past, but we suppose that this is the difference: UNH suffered more defensive breakdowns in the first period than Denver actually scored on. Lowell suffered next to none and Hellebuyck answered every time. Anyone trying to draw comparisons between Hellebuyck and Casey DeSmith would have to do it with a lot of squiggly lines and with their chubby fingers wrapped in a fist around the crayon their mom got them from the Denny’s waitress, because one is a world-class college netminder and the other plays for UNH. The same can be true of the teams’ approaches to defense.

Yes, UNH swept Lowell this season but that Lowell and this Lowell are two very different animals, and nothing we’ve seen from the Wildcats in the months since Dec. 1 has led us to believe that their 11-1-1 start was anything but a series of fortuitous bounces and quirks of the schedule. Their record down the stretch, against some seriously bad teams, leads us to wonder what all the fuss was ever about.

Funny things can happen in any 60 minutes of hockey, but with the way Lowell’s been playing for months now, we figure Norm Bazin and Co. will have the last laugh against the team that swept them way, way back in ancient history.

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