Saturday night’s matchup at Agganis Arena pitted the nation’s hottest team against a Hockey East rival that has struggled to find consistency.
UMass-Lowell, ranked 18th and riding the country’s longest active winning streak, edged No. 9 Boston University, 4-3, for its ninth straight victory, and gave the Terriers their first back-to-back losses of the season.
It is the longest streak for the River Hawks (13-7-1, 7-6-1) since they took nine straight in the 2001-02 season.
“I think you’ve got a lot of interchangeable parts on our team,’’ said UML coach Norm Bazin. “We’ve probably got four second lines. We don’t have any real standout lines but maybe that’s a good thing and some nights it’s not.
“We’ve got several people contributing to some team success. They’re finally getting a good feel for how we have to play in order to have an opportunity at success. That’s been the biggest difference. We’ve gotten contributions from our defense, which was tough at the start of the year. Our special teams wasn’t clicking and now it’s contributing. And we’ve obviously had two solid goalies throughout the run.’’
The Terriers, on the other hand, have lost four of their last six.
BU (12-9-0, 9-6-0) took the lead at 5:11 of the opening period. Senior center Ben Rosen made a terrific play, keeping the puck in the UMass-Lowell zone as he skated through a couple of defenders. He took a backhand shot from the right circle that junior goaltender Doug Carr (29 saves) stopped. But the rebound bounced in front of the net and freshman Matt Lane came charging in. The puck bounced off Lane’s hip and past Carr.
The River Hawks answered at 14:37 when junior right wing Josh Holmstrom dished a centering pass to junior pivot Joseph Pendenza in the left circle. Pendenza’s shot eluded freshman netminder Matt O’Connor (28 saves) and it was all square at 1.
The only goal of the second period came when the River Hawks had a two-man advantage. Defenseman Alexx Privitera was called for tripping at 10:39 and fellow blue liner Sean Escobedo followed him to the box for high-sticking at 11:44.
Just nine seconds later, junior defenseman Chad Ruhwedel fired in a one-timer from the left point to make it 2-1.
UML made it a two-goal lead at 1:40 of the third when junior right wing Derek Arnold beat O’Connor on a wrister from the slot only seconds after BU failed to hit the net on a great scoring chance.
The River Hawks’ fourth goal was shorthanded. Freshman right wing Adam Chapie beat O’Connor from the slot at 5:23.
BU got one back on the power play at 6:27. Privitera made a nice cross-ice pass to sophomore right wing Evan Rodrigues in the left circle. Rodrigues wristed it past Carr to close the gap to 4-2.
The Terriers made it a one-goal game on a perfectly executed backdoor play. Sophomore right wing Cason Hohmann had the puck in the left circle. He saw senior Wade Megan racing down the right side and hit him with an expertly timed pass. Megan backhanded the puck just inside the right post at 10:52.
The game changed in UML’s favor with 5:47 remaining when BU junior defenseman Garrett Noonan was assessed a five-minute major and automatic disqualification for spearing Carr, which means Noonan will miss BU’s next game, at Providence Friday night.
“There’s no place for it,’’ said Bazin. “I don’t know why you would take a penalty like that at that juncture in the game.’’
Bazin said discipline is something his team has maintained throughout its streak.
“We’ve been able to go into opposing rinks and keep our discipline and that’s a positive,’’ he said. “Whenever you’re able to do that, you give yourself a chance.’’