Senior defenseman John Cronin scored the game-winner midway through the third period and also anchored a pivotal five-on-three penalty kill to lead Boston University to a 5-3 win over Massachusetts-Lowell.

The Terriers rebounded from a 2-0 first-period deficit to tie the game heading into the third. Frantisek Skladany and Andrew Martin then swapped goals before Cronin notched his third of the year to earn the win.

“Their defenseman dumped it out of the zone and I anticipated it,” Cronin said. “I had a head of steam and caught the defenseman flat-footed and just turned him, tried to throw it on net and the rebound came right to me. It was an open net.”

The victory maintained the one-point lead BU (19-10-2, 11-8-0 HEA) held over Providence in the race for the final playoff home ice slot. The Terriers, who have now won five in a row including the Beanpot championship, also hold a game in hand over PC, which upset Maine, 5-1.

When Lowell and BU met in November, the River Hawks dominated the game only to lose, 3-2. As a result, BU coach Jack Parker had no trouble revving up the troops, Beanpot hangover or not.

“There was no way we were perceiving Lowell as being anything but a real difficult team for us to play, which they proved again tonight,” he said. “The reason why is that they beat the hell out of us last time. We didn’t forget that. That was a long time ago, but that was an embarrassing win because Lowell so dominated us and we were fortunate to pull something out.

“So we weren’t looking by Lowell. We were just playing a good team that was up for us and they played hard. They won the first period, not just on the scoreboard, but territorially, too.

“The key of the game was that two big things happened [in the second period]. One, we killed off a [1:20] five-on-three. That was huge. Two, they turned the puck over with a bad turnover [for the goal that made it 2-1]. We didn’t have much going and all of a sudden we had a goal.”

On the down side, BU lost assistant captain John Sabo for at least the weekend with a separated shoulder, which he injured in the first period. His availability for next weekend’s key home-and-home with Providence is unknown.

The loss left Lowell (10-16-3, 3-14-2 HEA) still trailing Northeastern by one point in the race for the final playoff position since the Huskies lost to New Hampshire, 4-3. The River Hawks had taken three of their last six possible Hockey East points and with a 2-0 first-period lead may have thought they were ready to leapfrog into eighth place.

“At the end of the day, we scored three goals and all three were by freshmen,” UML coach Blaise MacDonald said. “We made some significant turnovers and they’re upperclassmen that should do a better job. We need to someday learn from these mistakes.

“We had some layups [on the five-on-three] that we just didn’t execute. You’ve got to be able to make plays, make passes. We had one of our seniors who couldn’t keep two pucks in. If you can’t get to the wall, seal the wall and keep them in, that’s a fundamental mistake. That’s what really hurt us and took all the momentum away.”

With defensemen Baptiste Amar, Bobby McCabe and Eric Johansson out of the lineup, the River Hawks also found themselves short on the blue line. As it turned out, that proved critical.

“Collectively our defense struggled in a huge way,” MacDonald said. “Just look at the turnovers.”

Lowell jumped out to a 2-0 lead with a strong first period. At 9:26 Mark Pandolfo jammed in a rebound to open the scoring. Then at 13:44 Elias Godoy doubled the lead, roofing a centering pass from Steve Slonina behind the net.

The Terriers rebounded in the second period to tie the game. At 5:33, Kenny Magowan took advantage of a Lowell turnover behind the net and backhanded a shot past Dominic Smart. Midway through the period, Lowell had golden chances to pad the lead, but couldn’t capitalize. Pandolfo rang a shot off the post and soon after the River Hawks received the five-on-three power play that would last for 1:20. They generated some strong chances, but each time fell short of re-establishing a two-goal margin.

This came back to haunt them when BU got its opportunity on the power play. Ryan Whitney fired from the point through a thick screen in front and the puck found the back of the net, tying the score at 2-2, and setting the stage for the pivotal third period.

The two teams complete their home-and-home series at Walter Brown Arena on Saturday.