LOWELL — Scott Wilson closed out the second period with a goal and opened the third period with another as the sophomore winger led sixth-ranked UMass-Lowell over Maine, 4-2, Thursday night in the first game of a best-of-three Hockey East quarterfinal at Tsongas Center.
Lowell (23-10-2) came into the tournament on a prolonged hot streak, boasting an 18-3-1 record in its previous 22 games, and its first regular-season title. Still, the River Hawks suffered through a lackluster opening period before scoring three goals in 4 minutes and 37 seconds of the third period to take control. Game 2 is Friday night at Tsongas.
“We didn’t get the start we were looking for,’’ said Lowell coach Norm Bazin. “However, we were pretty resilient.
“I thought the combination of some young guys never having played in the playoffs and a little rust, to be honest with you, for the slow start. We’ll have to get better and we know that.’’
Eighth-seeded Maine (11-18-8) has a history of dominating top-seeded Lowell in the Hockey East tournament, racking up a 15-1 record. Maine also won the regular-season series, 2-1.
“A missed opportunity for us,’’ said Maine coach Tim Whitehead, whose team took a 1-0 lead with a power-play goal in the first period.
A smallish crowd of 3,070, bereft of Lowell students who are away on spring break, quietly watched the River Hawks play an uninspired first period.
Maine connected on the power play at 13:52 when Jake Rutt took a pass from Devin Shore at the left point, walked in to the faceoff dot, and rang a shot off the crossbar. Lowell goalie Connor Hellebuyck swiped at the puck as it dropped to the ice and knocked it in with his glove.
Lowell struggled to get through two more penalty kills in the first half of the second period. When the ice finally tipped, and Maine was sent off for three penalties in the second, Lowell busted through. Wilson took Derek Arnold’s pass at the right circle and flicked a shot at the goal. The puck slipped past Martin Ouellette, who was thoroughly screened.
“We had ’em killed all the way until that last one,’’ said Whitehead. “That was a key play for them.’’
Wilson agreed the goal shifted the tenor of the game. “Little bit of a tough start, we kind of wanted to be a bit more aggressive in the beginning,’’ he said. “The power play that we got in response in the second was big.’’
Wilson then gave his team the lead at 1:52 of the third. Christian Folin got the play started with a right-to-left swerve across the goal mouth for a wrist shot and Wilson rapped in the rebound for his 14th goal of the season.
“We stopped sitting and watching,’’ Bazin said. “I thought we were more aggressive as the game went on.’’
Only 21 seconds later, Joseph Pendenza found a juicy rebound from an A.J. White shot and rammed it home.
“It was a big, big deal for us,’’ said Bazin. “It was a real shift in momentum.’’
Maine was in trouble and another Lowell power-play goal at 6:29 sealed the deal at 4-1, Holmstrom tipping Chad Ruhwedel’s shot from the center point into the net at 6:29.