Lowell, Mass. -- Despite its coach downplaying the importance of playoff positioning after the game, Friday night's 4-1 UMass Lowell win has put the River Hawks in control of their own destiny with one game left in the Hockey East regular season.
All UMass Lowell needs on Saturday night is one point to clinch a bye in the first round of the Hockey East Tournament. The River Hawks played like the more desperate team on Friday night, winning more battles for loose pucks and completely shutting down the Vermont power play.
"Hockey East is such a tough league. We played a great opponent tonight. We're certainly thrilled to come out with points. We know how tough it's going to be tomorrow. It was playoff style hockey. There was a lot of traffic in the neutral zone," explained UMass Lowell coach Norm Bazin.
"The team that played with more intensity and was more hungry won the game," said Vermont bench boss Kevin Sneddon. "Lowell did a tremendous job. We didn't have much going."
Each team had 31 shots on goal, but that didn't really tell the story of the game. Vermont had its chances, but for large stretches of the game UMass Lowell kept Vermont hemmed in and out of the offensive zone.
The River Hawks scored the only goal of the first period on a goal from Dylan Zink at the 6:34 mark. The defenseman had pinched in on the initial rush and found himself right on top of the crease. He got his stick on Evan Campbell's blast from the right point, deflecting it past Vermont goaltender Mike Santaguida.
A first period adjustment by the Catamounts allowed for three odd man rushes by slipping behind Lowell defenders in the neutral zone, but Kevin Boyle was up for the task. Despite the success on the stretch in transition, Vermont was powerless on the man advantage.
The ineptitude on the power play finally cost UVM just over midway through the second. Joe Gambardella intercepted a pass just at his defensive left circle and streaked up the left side. A few strides in from the blue line he let go a blast that beat Santaguida glove side. It was UMass Lowell's 11th shorthanded goal of the season and Gambardella's 10th tally on the campaign.
"We've been working on our penalty kill in practice. It's gotten better throughout the week. We're doing a good job pursuing pucks and outworking the other team," said Gambardella.
"It was terrible," said Sneddon when asked about his team's failure on the man advantage. "Our power play was awful."
A fluky Vermont goal cut the Lowell deficit to 2-1 with 3:42 to go in the second period. Brendan Bradley's shot from the high slot hit some traffic in front, bounced high in the air, over the head of UML goaltender Kevin Boyle and into the net.
With each team sputtering to generate much offense, a bouncing puck went the way of the River Hawks. Vermont won the draw, but it got past defenseman Nick Luukko, giving Evan Campbell a breakaway down the right side. As he was approaching the net, he slipped and fell, but the puck went in as Santaguida missed the pokecheck. Chapie got the primary assist at 13:37, his second helper of the night.
UMass Lowell goaltender Kevin Boyle made 30 saves for the victory, despite appearing to fight the puck at times throughout the game.
The two teams will meet again Saturday night in the series finale. There will be plenty at stake in the final night of the regular season.
Jeff Cox covers college, junior, high school and prep hockey, NCAA recruiting and NHL Draft prospects. Follow him on Twitter @JeffCoxSports.