March 22, 2013

River Hawks clip Friars, advance to Hockey East finals

By Jesse Connolly

Goaltender Connor Hellebuyck and the River Hawks celebrate their victory over Providence College in the semifinals of the Hockey East tournament. (Dave Arnold Photography)

Final: UMass-Lowell 2, Providence College 1

Recap: PC had more jump in their step in the early going and it paid off, as Kevin Rooney beat Connor Hellebuyck 30 seconds after Providence's second power play expired. His first goal of the season gave the Friars a 1-0 lead 8:59 into the contest. 

From there, the River Hawks took the momentum. In the second period, the officials thought they might've finally cracked goalie Jon Gillies (South Portland, Maine), but reviews didn't show the puck finding its way past the goal line. At the time, UML held a 15-3 shot advantage, but PC outshot them 4-0 in the remainder of the frame.

In the third, Lowell pushed hard right off the bat and finally found twine 34 seconds into the period, as A.J. White's second tally of the season knotted things up. With 7:30 remaining in regulation, Scott Wilson came busting down the slot and absolutely ripped a centering feed past Gillies to put the River Hawks ahead.

Providence pulled Gillies for the extra attacker late and had a number of near-misses in the final 90 seconds of the game, but Hellebuyck held the fort down, helping the regular-season champs advance to the Hockey East finals.

Records: UMass-Lowell 25-10-2, 52 points; Providence 17-14-7, 41 points

Key Play of the Game: Though they may have missed the open net and iced the puck one too many times, UML as a whole deserves credit for withstanding the Friars' all-out push in the final minute of regulation. Hellebuyck made a few impressive stops, while his defenders were all over anyone in a black sweater with the puck.

Connolly's Commendations: The most impressive individual performance of the night came from the losing netminder, Gillies. The Calgary Flames draftee was simply superb, making  anumber of saves that put his stellar reaction time and top-notch rebound control on full display. He finished the night with 31 saves on 33 shots.

While Lowell seemed to have a clear edge territorially, Hellebuyck certainly deserves kuos for his showing in goal for the River Hawks. A nominee for Hockey East Rookie of the Year, Hellebuyck stopped all 18 shots he faced in the final frame and made a number of crucial saves on redirections throughout the night.

Connolly's Critiques: Tough way to go out for Kyle Murphy. The senior forward was on the ice for both of the River Hawks' goals and was minus-3 in his final two tournament games. 

Junior d-man Steven Shamanski had an even worse go of it. He was also minus-2 against UML and was minus-5 in his final three games of the tourney.

Notes: For the River Hawks, this is their first trip to the Hockey East finals since losing 1-0 in the championship game to BU back in 2009. Providence College was eliminated from contention for a spot in the NCAA tournament with the loss.

Next: UMass-Lowell will face the winner of the other semifinal matchup between Boston College and Boston University. The championship game is set for Saturday night at 7 o'clock.

Twitter: @JesseNEHJ