CHESTNUT HILL, Mass. -- Boston College head coach Jerry York often uses the phrase "trophy season" as the Hockey East calendar strikes February.
The Eagles are in contention to achieve their goal of winning the league's regular-season title with just one game left to play, but fifth-ranked UMass Lowell made their road to doing so much more difficult in Thursday's first game of a weekend series at Conte Forum.
Senior Joe Gambardella notched all three of his points in the third period ― two goals and an assist ― to lead Lowell to a 4-1 win over the No. 14 Eagles, its sixth straight in as many games this month.
"I didn't think we started off that well, but I thought we got better as the game went along," UML head coach Norm Bazin said. “We scored on the power play, so special teams continues to be important for us. We got some timely blocks and a good third period, obviously.”
The visitors closed the game with three unanswered goals in the final frame after junior defenseman Chris Forney’s opening goal was answered just 25 seconds into the third period. Gambardella contributed to all of them for his fourth multi-point game in the last five, but his first multi-goal game since Oct. 7.
The River Hawks are 21-9-3 on the season and 13-7-1 in Hockey East play, good enough for a temporary second-place tie with Boston University. With a win Friday night at Tsongas Center, Lowell would clinch home ice for the quarterfinals.
“Lowell plays for trophies too, not just BC,” Bazin said. “We’re very open about that. More importantly, we want to be playing good hockey going into the tournament; it’s not a switch you can turn on and off.”
The opening frame finished scoreless, but freshman goaltenders Tyler Wall and Joseph Woll stopped the combined 19 shots they faced. “We played a good hockey team tonight, and I thought both goalies played very, very well,” Bazin said.
Perhaps the best chance of the game before a puck went in the net came after the halfway mark of the second as Woll stopped Lowell seniors C.J. Smith and Gambardella in succession on a breakaway. Lowell had a slight 10-9 shot advantage in the first, while the count favored BC in the second, 10-6.
The River Hawks finally drew first blood 17:14 into the second period as junior defenseman Chris Forney teed up a one-timer from the center point that slid through traffic and past Woll, who faced just 24 shots on the night.
“Give credit to Lowell. They played good defense and the kid (Wall) made some good saves,” BC head coach Jerry York said. “I thought our team battled hard and played well, but we’ve got to score some more goals.”
BC battled right back just 25 seconds into the final frame as senior Austin Cangelosi banged home a puck that bounced right onto his stick in the crease following a shot from classmate Matthew Gaudreau.
The Eagles have scored just eight goals in their last four games, going 0-2-2 in that stretch since the Beanpot Tournament’s consolation game against Northeastern on Feb. 13. BC is winless in its last six, dating back to the week prior.
“We’ve got to get shots on the net in traffic, we’ve got to have some rebounds, screens in front, some more bodies in the Grade-A area,” York said. “We’re holding on to our sticks too tight right now.”
Gambardella tied the score at 3:34 as he took Smith’s pass off a turnover and beat Woll with a quick snapper, while Smith slammed home his team-leading 18th marker after John Edwardh fed a pass across the ice on a two-aside play at 13:15.
“I thought we just did a good job of progressing pucks, getting pucks deep and making them work,” Gambardella said of the River Hawks’ play in a third period in which they scored three times on just eight shots on goal. “(My linemates Smith and Edwardh) complement me as much as I complement them.”
A quick break to offense allowed Gambardella to add his second goal of the night at 16:31. Woll made an initial save, but the Staten Island, N.Y., native pushed the puck through the BC rookie’s pad and inside the left post.