With two weeks remaining in the regular season, the first six slots of the Hockey East standings remain crammed, the difference between the first and sixth teams only 3 points.
On Friday night, 12th-ranked University of Massachusetts-Lowell upended No. 15 Boston University, 3-0, before 4,757 at Agganis Arena, upending the conference standings at the same time.
UMass-Lowell (17-9-2, 11-8-2) won the opener of the home-and-home series and moved into a tie for fifth with BU (14-13-2, 11-8-2). Merrimack and New Hampshire are tied for first, and Providence and Boston College are tied for third.
The win gave the River Hawks the season series and a crucial advantage should the teams reach a tiebreaker as they jockey for playoff position.
“These games are huge,’’ said BU coach Jack Parker. “This was a huge game tonight; it’s a huge game tomorrow. It’s even more important with regard to the NCAA Tournament. Not getting points tonight was a step back for us, that’s for sure.’’
The River Hawks opened a two-goal lead after two periods, and Riley Wetmore iced the game with a power-play goal at 14:55 of the third. Freshman Connor Hellebuyck made 25 saves to earn his third shutout.
“I thought tonight was a team shutout,’’ said Lowell coach Norm Bazin. “I don’t think we gave them a whole bunch of second opportunities. They’re a very skilled hockey team; they’re especially strong on the weak side of the ice and I thought we did a fairly nice job trying to close that down. But it’s really about the second opportunities at net front and I thought we protected [Hellebuyck’s] backside pretty well.’’
BU, suffering through an erratic season, is 2-6-2 in its last 10 games, with a five-game winless streak at home (0-4-1) — its longest such skid since 1971.
A win and a tie at Maine last weekend left the Terriers encouraged but they couldn’t find that spark against a deep, defensively devoted River Hawks squad.
Lowell made its mark in the second period, scoring two goals in scarcely two minutes. The first, a pill off the stick of Scott Wilson, was set up on a short drop pass from Chad Ruhwedel. From the right circle, Ruhwedel left the puck for Wilson, who fired lightning from the right sideboards, pinging the puck off the far post and in at 5:35.
It was the ninth goal of the season for the sophomore Wilson, who has piled up 62 points in 65 career games.
The post was still ringing when the River Hawks took advantage of a rush up ice. From the left boards, Josh Holmstrom flung a centering pass toward the goal and Joseph Pendenza, charging the net, got credit for the score when the puck deflected in off BU defenseman Sean Escobedo at 7:39.
“I liked the second and third period better than the first,’’ said Bazin. “We started to put a little puck pressure.’’
BU was forced to spend some of its energy killing penalties (Lowell had six power-play opportunities, but only five shots with the man-advantage), then couldn’t push its way past Lowell’s clinging defense.
“We didn’t generate enough offense the second half of the game,’’ said Parker. “We had some pretty good opportunities for a while but they really shut us down, mostly on the initial rush.
“They had four guys back all the time once they got the lead and they really did a great job clogging up center ice and keeping us from getting anything going on initial rushes.’’