River Hawk teammates celebrate A.J. White’s game-winning goal in a 3OT victory over No. 3 Providence College in the Hockey East semifinals. (George DeLuca/Connector)
Both Providence and UMass Lowell refused to quit as a coveted spot in the Hockey East championship game loomed as a sparkling prize, and a couple of maestros in net transformed what started as a humdrum semifinal into a playoff classic.
A game like this deserved overtime. You know what? No. It deserved more than just one. Two sounds about right. Still not good enough, let’s go three.
With 7:33 left to go in the third overtime, the puck deflected off of UMass Lowell’s senior captain A.J. White’s skate and into the back of the net to give the River Hawks a 2-1 triple-overtime victory over Providence to advance to the Hockey East finals for the fourth consecutive year.
“We’re very excited to be moving on the Championship Game, it was a good couple games out there,” said a smiling UMass Lowell head coach Norm Bazin. “I thought the guys did a good job staying with the process, and in the end, we got the game-winner so we’re very excited.”
White’s goal was originally called a no-goal as it was thought to be kicked into the net. But after review, the ref deemed White did not blatantly kick it into the net.
“Falin made a really good pass to me off of the end board,” said White. “I was just trying to coral the puck, and luckily it hit off my skate and deflected into the net.”
White got the game-winner, but the star of the game was UMass Lowell goalie Kevin Boyle. The senior shot-stopper recorded a career high 58 saves in what was a truly magnificent effort.
“I think I went through six bottles of Gatorade,” said Boyle. “I was just trying to stay hydrated. I can’t say enough about how well the guys in front of me did. They kept everything to the outside and made things really easy for me. Coach kept telling us if we stick to the program we would be alright.”
Providence got on the board first six minutes into the first when defensemen Vincent Desharnais fired a wrister past Boyle. For the freshmen Desharnais, the goal was the first of his collegiate career. Boyle had significant pressure in front of the net and was not able to locate the blast.
Luckily for the River Hawks, C.J. Smith saved what would have been an extremely disappointing and lackluster first period. UMass Lowell had not been able to get a good forecheck on the Friars for much of the first, and only had 2 shots on goal with two minutes left in the first. However, with a minute remaining in the period, Smith corralled the puck in front of the net after a prolonged time in the offensive zone and juked out two defenders before sliding the puck past Providence goalie Nick Ellis for the equalizer.
The forecheck improved for UMass Lowell in the second period, as they outshot the Friars 10-7 and had three great chances in front of the net. Boyle stood tall in between the pipes, making a diving pad save followed by a snatching glove save. The River Hawks went on a powerplay midway through the second, but could not get any good chances on net.
After two periods, Providence had outshot UMass Lowell 20-15, but the score remained tied at 1-1.
As both goalies continued to make clutch save after clutch save, it became clear that the next team to score was going to win. The third period saw great up and down hockey as both teams showed a greater urgency to take the lead. Each team had its chances, but after three, the only difference on the scoreboard was the 30-20 shot advantage for Providence.
Both teams had multiple chances in the three overtimes, but it was clear that fatigue was starting to set in.
“We were just trying to keep fresh legs out there,” said Bazin. “We stuck to three lines in the first game, but our fourth line got a lot of time in the second game. It’s part of the deal, and I’m glad we have depth.”
The River Hawks will now try to muster up the effort to play in the Championship Game tomorrow at 7 p.m. against either Boston College or Northeastern.