After the first 40 minutes, Providence was clinging to a 1-0 lead over Massachusetts-Lowell, but the Friars had plenty of reasons to believe they could hang on for the win.
They had been the only team to beat the River Hawks during the No. 1 seed’s dominating 10-1 run over the last 11 games. They owned a 14-0-2 record this season when leading after two periods.
2013 Hockey East Championship
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All the same, the irresistible force of UMass-Lowell ultimately beat out Gillies as the seemingly immovable object. The River Hawks scored two goals, including a brilliant game-winner by Scott Wilson, to pull off the 2-1 win in the first Hockey East semifinal Friday night at the TD Garden.
A.J. White scored the other goal for the River Hawks – just his second of the season – and Connor Hellebuyck made 34 saves, including several under heavy pressure in the waning minutes.
“It was a battle,” UMass-Lowell coach Norm Bazin said. “It was certainly a very difficult game to play. I thought we got a little better as the game went along, but they gave us all we could handle. They’re a very good hockey team. It was a battle to get sustained pressure, but we did that in the third.”
In addition to Gillies’ 31 saves, freshman Kevin Rooney scored his first collegiate goal for the Friars.
“I thought it was a very good game,” Providence coach Nate Leaman said. “We got the start we wanted to. I was really happy with the way that we were coming out and executing early. We got a big goal from our fourth line [and] I thought our fourth line was tremendous tonight. It comes down to a bounce and they won the one-on-one battle on the game-winner there.”
The Friars came out looking very solid in all zones, though there were few scoring chances during the first period.
At 8:59, Providence took a 1-0 lead when freshman center and Rhode Island native Noel Acciardi raced in on the right wing for the shot. Hellebuyck made the save, but Rooney knocked in the rebound.
The River Hawks seemed to build momentum through most of the second period, when they outshot the Friars by a 15-7 margin and had about six great scoring opportunities to the Friars’ one. However, they couldn’t beat the highly-acclaimed freshman in net.
Early in the period, the theme was long shots from the point that found their way through traffic and almost caught the net. Later in the period, the chances were great, but the saves were even better.
At 14:26, Riley Wetmore had a great bid from 15 feet, and Gillies responded with his best save – until 20 seconds later when he robbed Joseph Pendenza with a kick save to his right on a shot ticketed for the net.
Just 34 seconds into the third period,, the River Hawks finally tied it. Chad Ruhwedel carried the puck into the zone before dishing a pass to Pendenza. His shot didn’t go in, but White was there to knock in the rebound with Gillies down and much of the net open.
Providence’s fourth line, which had only scored four goals all season, almost got their second of the night at 6:25. Rooney had an initial shot and his brother Chris had a good crack at the rebound as well, but Hellebuyck was equal to the test.
At 12:30, the River Hawks took their first lead of the night on Wilson’s spectacular goal. On the left wing, Wetmore slipped a backhanded pass toward Wilson crashing the net. The sophomore was thoroughly covered by Friars’ defenseman John Gilmour, but he managed to lean back and release a one-timer that somehow got by the defender before beating Gillies.
“It was kind of a bouncing puck and I tracked it across,” Gillies said. “I saw it; I was just kind of surprised [and] didn’t have my feet fully set. The puck just died when it got on his stick and he got a lot of wood on it. I reacted as quick as I could, but couldn’t come up with it.”
Like the first goal, the game-winner was scored off of a rush following a transition.
“It’s been an emphasis really since Christmas,” Bazin said. “We weren’t scoring enough goals five-on-five and transition is a big part of that.”
Providence tried to take it up a notch to it.
Tim Schaller had a good bid at 16:30 and then with 1:20 left and the goalie pulled for the extra attacker, Shane Luke had a great chance off of the rebound of a Kevin Hart shot. Hellebuyck made his biggest, if not best save of the game.
Providence almost tied it again with 49 seconds left with Derek Army and Ross Mauermann digging after a rebound in the crease before Hellebuyck covered it. Providence kept up the attack and freshman Tom Parisi shot just wide as time ran out.
“I’ve never pushed a team this hard,” Leaman said, reflecting on the Friars’ finished season. “From the beginning of the year when we went out to Miami, we saw the potential of this team. I had a relentless approach with this team and we took a little time to mature.”
Meanwhile, the River Hawks can rest assured that they will return to the NCAA tournament, regardless of what happens in Saturday’s Hockey East championship.
Still, Lowell is looking to win its first league title.
“Somebody’s got to win the trophy,” Bazin said. “Why not us?”