The Hockey East penthouse just got more crowded.
Entering Tuesday night with three teams tied for first place in the conference, a fourth club was added as Massachusetts-Lowell knocked off Boston College 4-2 at Kelley Rink.
Combined with Boston University’s 5-2 win over Merrimack, the River Hawks and Eagles, along with Providence and New Hampshire, all sit tied for the top spot in the standings with 28 points. Each team has four games remaining.
The hero on Tuesday for Lowell was rookie defenseman Christian Folin, who broke a 2-2 tie with 4:47 remaining in the third, burying his fourth goal of the season off a perfect give-and-go feed with Lowell’s leading scorer, Joseph Pendenza.
UML captain Riley Wetmore added an empty-net goal with 46.9 seconds left.
In describing the game-winning goal, Pendenza said it was a fortunate bounce that got the puck to Folin’s stick, admitting he was trying to actually get a shot on goal.
“My initial thought is [Folin] was going to let one rip [because] he’s got a better shot than I do,” said Pendenza. “He ended up faking it and giving it to me. I just tried to redirect it and it pinballed around and ended up back to Folin and he put it in.”
The goal was the deciding factor in a game that Lowell never trailed. That said, it’s the first time Lowell has won at Kelley Rink since Feb. 13, 2009.
“This was a barometer game for us,” said River Hawks’ coach Norm Bazin. “We were curious to see how we’ve improved since we last played the guys and I thought we fared fairly well.”
The win for Lowell spoiled a two-goal game for BC junior Bill Arnold, his first multi-goal game since Dec. 1.
“Tonight was a playoff-type hockey game,” said BC coach Jerry York. “It was really a puck possession game. When you had it, you had to really protect it and when [Lowell] had it, it was tough to get it away from them.
“I thought our team battled hard and played very well. There’s not a lot of difference between those two teams tonight.”
Lowell opened the scoring on the power play in the first period. Sophomore Scott Wilson one-timed a laser past BC netminder Parker Milner (25 saves) at 10:41 to give the River Hawks the 1-0 lead. It was Wilson’s third straight game with a goal and fourth in his last five.
BC evened things at 12:40 when Arnold buried his 13th goal of the season, redirecting a perfect touch pass from defenseman Travis Jeke.
But before the fans could finish cheering, Lowell retook the lead. Josh Holmstrom fired a low shot through a screen set by A.J. White just 23 seconds after Arnold’s tally.
The game stayed that way into the third thanks to solid goaltending and a little help for each netminder from the crossbar.
Lowell’s Chad Ruhwedel was first, firing a puck from the slot off the left side of the crossbar at 7:25. Johnny Gaudreau followed suit, firing a shot from a scrum off the crossbar at the other end at 14:17.
In the third, BC went on the power play for the first – and only – time of the game at 6:45. Just as the man-advantage was about to expire, Arnold drove the net on the left wing side and fired a low shot that knocked Lowell netminder Connor Hellebuyck (22 saves) off balance. As the rookie netminder fell backwards, the puck trickled over the goal line to even the game at two.
The victory, the River Hawks’ fifth straight and 15th in the last 18, propels them from fifth place into a tie for first. But Bazin and his team realize that as quick as they’ve arrived at the top, it’s easy to descend back out of a home-ice spot without continuous wins.
“You’ll see me smile if we’re still talking about [first place] two weeks from now,” said Bazin. “There’s still a lot of hockey to be played. Every opponent, I don’t know if any one is stronger than anybody else.
“If we’re still having news conferences after wins, we’ll probably be in a pretty good position.”