BOSTON -- Providence and UMass Lowell were undoubtedly two of the best teams in Hockey East all season long, but also possess two of the nation's stingiest defense corps.
For two teams that allowed less than two goals per-game on average all season long, their Friday night semifinal matchup at TD Garden was certainly nothing different.
It took more than two full overtime periods to decide a winner, but Lowell's second goal of the night bounced off senior captain A.J. White's skate and into the back of the net at the 112:27 mark.
"Obviously, it was a good couple games out there tonight," UML head coach Norm Bazin said at the conclusion of the second-longest game in Hockey East Tournament history. "There were a lot of irregular shifts, but I thought the guys did a good job of staying with the process. We're very excited."
The goal was originally waved off right away as White was deemed to have used a distinct kicking motion to put the puck past Providence junior Nick Ellis, but referees Kevin Shea and Cameron Voss reversed the call.
With the victory, the River Hawks improved to 24-8-5 on the season and become just the fourth team in Hockey East history to advance to four straight championship games.
Lowell senior goaltender Kevin Boyle was exceptional in his 23rd win of the season, stopping 20 of his 58 saves in the second and third periods combined. He is just the tenth goalie in Hockey East history make more than 55 stops in a playoff contest.
The Friars will have to wait for the NCAA selection committee to determine their next move, but their journey to a third-ever conference title certainly ended unfortunately.
"It was a great college hockey game," Providence head coach Nate Leaman said. "I thought both goalies were the stars of the night. It was tough getting one by either of them. It's a shame it ended, but that's hockey."
The Friars jumped on the scoreboard just 6:38 into the first period, receiving offense from an unlikely source as freshman defenseman Vincent Desharnais fired a soft wrister on net from just inside the blue line that eluded Boyle.
Senior Nick Saracino got credit for the primary assist, feeding Desharnais for the first goal of his collegiate career.
PC held a 10-5 shots on goal edge in the frame, but found itself in a tie game at the first intermission. River Hawk sophomore C.J. Smith leveled the score at 18:14, picking up a rebound low on the left side before charging into the slot for his 17th goal of the season.
The teams played to a more even second period, but it was Ellis who had to do the heavy lifting for much of it, despite an even 10-10 shots count.
The River Hawks put together several offensive flurries in the frame, but Ellis was equal to the task in stopping everything sent his way. His toughest saves came in the latter half of the frame, covering up a flurry in front of the net that ended with Gage Hough steering a backhander on net.
Freshman Nick Master had another great chance to put the River Hawks ahead with about three minutes left in the frame, but Ellis stayed with him on a mini-breakaway down the slot.
"I thought Nick Ellis was definitely our first star tonight and I would say that Boyle was their first star," Leaman said. "That's our league though. (BC's Thatcher) Demko, Boyle, and Ellis, those are three pretty good goaltenders."
It was much of the same in the third period as the teams kept up their scoreless play, despite a 10-5 shot advantage for the Friars and a number of golden chances at both ends.
Boyle was tested with greater regularity in the final frame of regulation, making a great stop on a Trevor Mingoia backhand in the final 90 seconds. The Friar senior winger fired a backhander from low in the left circle before shooting a wrister just wide of the goal Boyle's net four minutes into the first extra period.
The teams posted eight shots on goal apiece in the first overtime session, before Boyle stopped all 13 that came his way in the second.
"I don't think it's too hard to keep your focus," Boyle said. "Like I said, you stay hydrated and pretty much do your best for the team in front of you. They did a great job, got a couple bounces but for the most part kept everything to the outside and made my job pretty easy."
The River Hawks closed the contest 12:27 into the third extra session. Senior Michael Fallon intercepted a clearing attempt and shot a puck towards goal that deflected off White's skate and past Ellis, who finished the night with 42 stops.
"It might have even hit their D-man before it went in, but I know at first they said it was no goal on the ice," White said. "For it being a long review, you're always a bit nervous, but I'm glad it went our way."