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Saturday night at Tsongas Center, Massachusetts proved there are no easy nights in Hockey East.
The Minutemen entered the night last in the Hockey East standings by four points, but the game was not in hand until senior Joe Gambardella and sophomore Connor Wilson scored third-period goals to lift No. 9 UMass-Lowell to a 4-2 win.
“It was certainly a gut check for our guys. I’m very proud of them,” said UML coach Norm Bazin, whose team is tied with Notre Dame for third place in Hockey East with 23 points. “We’re glad to get through this. They’re not all pretty, and this was a tough, tough game. The opponent was very good. They had a lot of urgency.
Gambardella scored the winning goal 11:07 into the final frame, jamming a puck past UMass senior Alex Wakaluk’s right post for his 14th goal and team-leading 40th point of the season.
At 14:12, Wilson ensured the River Hawks’ fourth consecutive win with a power-play goal, sticking a wrister off the crossbar on Wakaluk’s blocker side.
Lowell is 19-9-3 overall and 11-7-1 in Hockey East, while UMass dropped to 5-23-2 and 2-15-1 in league games with its 10th consecutive loss.
“We knew we had to put a 60-minute effort forth, and I thought the guys did a good job of answering the bell,” said Gambardella, who is tied for fifth in Hockey East in scoring. “We just got pucks deep the whole night. … When you play back-to-back games, you just have to find a way.”
The teams traded goals in each of the first two periods, although the River Hawks had a decided 18-7 shot advantage in the first. Lowell took a 1-0 lead at 12:30 as senior defenseman Dylan Zink took Gambardella’s feed in the right wing circle for a one-timer, but UMass freshman Niko Hildenbrand tied the score at 13:48.
All but 10 of Lowell’s 28 shot attempts landed on goal in the first. If Wakaluk had not come to play, the score could have escalated in a hurry. The UMass assistant captain made 17 of 35 stops in the opening frame, including one with sophomore Nick Master breaking down the slot and another as defenseman Tyler Mueller shot from the left wing on an odd-man rush around the midway mark.
“I thought we came out and Lowell took it to us for the first 10 minutes of the game,” UMass coach Greg Carvel said. “Luckily, Alex Wakaluk was really good in net tonight. He made a lot of big saves and made some big saves look easy.”
In the second period, senior defenseman Michael Kapla restored Lowell’s lead with a long point shot through traffic at 9:30. UMass rookie Jack Suter leveled the score again at 14:48.
Hockey East roundup
No. 16 Notre Dame 4, Maine 2
Sophomore Dylan Malmquist’s two goals included the winner 2:46 into the third period as the Fighting Irish completed a weekend sweep at Alfond Arena in Orono, Maine. Blaine Byron and Brendan Robbins lifted the Black Bears to a 2-0 lead by the 3:03 mark of the second period, but the visitors staged a four-goal rally to make Cal Petersen’s 17 saves hold up in his 80th consecutive start. Junior defenseman Jordan Gross scored the first of two consecutive power-play goals for Notre Dame in the second as it improved to 3-0-1 over the past two weekends.
No. 15 Vermont 5, New Hampshire 3
At Gutterson Fieldhouse in Burlington, Vt., the Catamounts scored two goals in each of the first two periods en route to avenging a Friday night loss. Mario Puskarich scored the second of Vermont’s goals in the first period before adding an insurance goal 3:55 into the third, while junior Anthony Petruzzelli posted a goal and an assist. UNH senior Tyler Kelleher moved into a three-way tie for the national scoring lead with his 51st point of the season, assisting junior linemate Jason Salvaggio’s goal at 15:51 of the third. Freshman Stefanos Lekkas made 22 saves for UVM.