LOWELL, Mass. -- The first two games of the UMass Lowell-New Hampshire series in the Hockey East Quarterfinals were pretty much the same story, but produced two different results.
While Sunday’s third game of the series finished in the River Hawks’ favor, it was the score that was the story. After dueling 3-1 scores in the first two games, this deciding contest at the Tsongas Center was an absolute obliteration.
Five different River Hawks scored en route to an 8-2 victory, clinching the top-seeded club’s fifth straight trip to TD Garden for the league’s semifinals, which will be played Friday.
“We’re ecstatic we’re moving onto the Garden,” Lowell head coach Norm Bazin said after his team improved to 24-10-3 on the season. “We played a really good hockey team, but things just went our way today. We got some puck luck and didn’t have to chase the game. It was a good game for us.”
Junior C.J. Smith and freshman Kenny Hausinger each scored two goals and added an assist, while Colin O’Neill notched the second two-goal game of his freshman season, and senior John Edwardh notched a goal and two assists of his own.
Five years in a row at the Garden? It’s nothing new now.
“It’s just kind of in our culture, and we expect to make it (to the Garden),” Edwardh said. “Tonight, we showed that we really wanted to get back there again.”
While the River Hawks hung eight goals on UNH for the second time this season, freshman Tyler Wall stopped 25 shots, including all 15 he faced in the second period.
The first period was evenly matched to start as the Wildcats finished the frame with seven shots on goal, but too many men on the ice penalty quickly led to the game’s first goal. At 3:36, Edwardh opened the scoring at the tail end of an intense power-play sequence for the River Hawks, popping his 17th goal of the season over UNH goaltender Danny Tirone.
Sophomore Marcus Vela tied the game on a backhander exactly two minutes later, following up senior Jamie Hill’s shot and beating Wall inside the left post.
“The strange thing is that in the first period I thought we came out real good,” UNH head coach Dick Umile said. “The guys were skating and I thought we ready to go head-to-head, but then it all fell apart from the too many men penalty to the faceoff play. After that, we just couldn’t handle them in our own end.”
Then, the onslaught began.
The River Hawks scored five more of their seven consecutive goals before the first buzzer sounded, taking a whopping five-goal lead into the locker room. It marked Lowell’s first six-goal period since Jan. 26, 1994 in a 10-1 win over Brown.
“We realized that they played three hockey games (against Merrimack) last week, so there was a simple game plan for us,” Bazin said. “We wanted to use our legs. We felt we were fresh, and we were able to control the tempo a little bit.”
Hausinger continued his outstanding rookie season with back-to-back goals at the 8:48 and 12:24 markers, beating Tirone with a blast off Ryan Lohin’s faceoff win before Smith fed a pass to the left post for an easy tap-in.
Just 29 seconds after Hausinger’s ninth goal of the season, Smith scored his first of two goals on a rebound through a scramble in front of Tirone.
Smith also added his 20th goal of the season with 1:28 to play before the intermission, but not before freshman Colin O’Neill gave the River Hawks a 5-1 advantage with a shorthanded rebound goal at the 15:21 marker.
If there was any doubt about how Lowell would come out, it was silenced quickly.
“Coach said it best in our pre-game meeting that it was kind of a culture test,” Edwardh said. “We take a lot of pride in making it back to the Garden, so we responded and are happy with the result.”
O’Neill added his second goal of the game at the 13:22 mark of the second, while junior defenseman Tyler Mueller jumped onto the scoresheet at 17:30.
UNH senior Tyler Kelleher’s stellar career finished with a bang 7:38 into the final period as he picked off an errant puck at center ice and shot his 25th goal of the season over Wall. It was the only goal scored by either team in the third.
It was too little, too late against the River Hawks. “They just go. They do a lot of things well,” Umile said. “They’re big and strong. In the offensive zone, they move the puck as well as anybody I’ve seen. They can shoot. They’ve got it all.”