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UMass Lowell sets tone early in rout of Fighting Irish

UMass Lowell sophomore Evan Campbell
UMass Lowell sophomore Evan Campbell
Matt Dewkett

Lowell, Mass. -- Despite not playing in nearly two weeks, there was no rust to shake off for UMass Lowell. The River Hawks came out flying and winning every loose puck battle to set the tone right from the opening face-off.

"We had 13 days off. You're always concerned you're going to be rusty, but we probably had more energy than rust tonight," said UMass Lowell coach Norm Bazin.

UMass Lowell (19-10-6) scored three in the first and two in the second en route to a 5-0 win over Notre Dame in the first game of the best-of-three Hockey East quarterfinal series on Friday evening in front of 4,137 at the Tsongas Center.

"You have to give Lowell credit. They were energized. That week off probably helped them. They were ready to play and we were on our heels right from the get go," said Notre Dame coach Jeff Jackson.

It took UML just 1:02 to draw first blood in the series. The puck was worked to the low slot to C.J. Smith whose quick snap shot beat Notre Dame goaltender Cal Petersen between his arm and body. Michael Louria and Michael Kapla assisted on the tally that was Smith's 15th goal of his rookie campaign.

"There's no question that he's had a good freshman year. He started off pretty strong and he's been able to sustain it," said Bazin.

Terrence Wallin added to the UMass Lowell lead at the 8:12 mark when he shoveled home a Ryan McGrath rebound. Kapla, who had a strong first period in all three zones, picked up the secondary assist.

Lowell took a 3-0 lead to the locker room thanks to a late period goal by Evan Campbell. The Penguins draft pick scored his 11th of the season, redirecting Robert Francis' shot past Petersen.

The River Hawks started the second period right where they left off in the first. Joe Gambardella was the beneficiary of a nice tic-tac-toe passing sequence 1:41 into the middle frame. Louria unselfishly held off on a shot from the left doorstep, instead slipping it back to Smith in the middle who quickly pushed it right down to Gambardella on the right side for an easy tap in.

Just over a minute later A.J. White picked off an errant Irish pass in the neutral zone and split the defense. He broke in alone on Petersen and scored a soft goal as he was being slashed for a 5-0 lead.

Petersen was pulled after the second period in favor of Chad Katunar, who stopped all seven shots he saw in relief. Petersen wasn't totally to blame for the five goals he gave up on 22 shots, but there were a few he'd probably like to have back.

"We didn't do a good job in front of Cal, but he gave up some rebounds in tight there. They won the net front battles. That certainly led to a few goals," explained Jackson.

Lowell's puck pursuit was executed to perfection all night. The River Hawks seemingly won every battle for loose pucks and were right on any Irish player who had the puck.

It was as nonchalant of a shutout as a goaltender might ever have. Junior Kevin Boyle stopped all 17 shots he faced for his 16th win of the season.

"It was a solid performance. It was a team shutout. Whenever you get a shutout in Hockey East, you should be very pleased because it is so difficult," said Bazin of his goaltender's third shutout of the season.

Notre Dame has never beaten UMass Lowell and has only four goals in six games over the last two years.

"Their structure in the 'D' zone is different than most teams. They play four guys low and one guy high. There's four guys there all the time. We have to have more patience than we showed," said Jackson.

"I don't worry about that stuff. I just concern myself with the next game. I'm not worried about last year or the regular season this year. I'm worried about a playoff series. We know how difficult it's going to be to win the playoff series. They're a great opponent," Bazin countered.

The Fighting Irish (17-18-5) will be playing with their season on the line in the second game of the best-of-three series Saturday night at 7 p.m. If Notre Dame has anything going in its favor after Friday's disastrous performance, it is that the team knows it can recover from a series deficit. The Irish faced a deficit in round one after a five overtime loss to UMass in game one of that series.

"It's no different than losing in five overtimes. We have to be much better prepared to play [Saturday] night," said Jackson.

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Jeff Cox covers college, junior, high school and prep hockey, NCAA recruiting and NHL Draft prospects. Follow him on Twitter @JeffCoxSports.