WORCESTER - UMass Lowell lived dangerously at the DCU Center on Saturday night.
The River Hawks epitomized that old, worn-out tournament adage: survive and advance. If you're a UML fan, check your hands to make sure you still have fingernails. I mean, this was a genuine, edge-of-your-seat clock-watcher for River Hawk Nation.
It's OK, all is well.
The gritty, always-balanced Hockey East champions once again stayed true to themselves. It wasn't flashy, but it was another victory. This hard-fought 2-1 win over a tough Minnesota State squad in the Northeast Regional semifinals brought the River Hawks one step closer to that elusive national title.
The next hurdle: top-seed and Hockey East rival Boston College in Sunday's regional final (5 p.m.). A ticket to the Frozen Four is on the line.
"The fans definitely didn't get cheated tonight," said UML head coach Norm Bazin, whose team is now 26-10-4. "They were treated to an exceptional hockey game with chances for both sides. I thought both goalies were very strong from the onset. It's a game that we're thrilled to be moving on from and we're looking forward to tomorrow's matchup."
The recipe on Saturday night for UML was simple and, just barely, enough to get the job done in front of a crowd of 6,522 with a significant UMass Lowell contingent.
A first-period breakaway goal from senior Wilmington native Joe Pendenza, an empty-netter from junior defenseman Zack Kamrass in the final minute and a brilliant effort from sophomore all-world goalie Connor Hellebuyck (35 saves), who kept the Mavericks off the board until Zach Stepan scored with 10.8 seconds left in the game.
Minnesota State (26-14-1) actually outshot UML 36-35 overall and 29-21 in the final two periods. The River Hawks had to scratch and claw to stay on top.
In the day's early game, Boston College defeated Denver, 6-2, in a performance that was nothing short of explosive and awe-inspiring at times. It was a prime example of what BC looks like at its best.
The nightcap was, in a sense, UMass Lowell being UMass Lowell.
The River Hawks don't operate the way BC does. UML has only scored six goals in a game twice all season, while BC has now done it nine times.
However, the River Hawks have allowed just one goal in their last three games. Hellebuyck had a shutout streak end at 201 minutes and 45 seconds on Saturday night. They seem to relish a 2-0 win more than a 6-2 win.
Two contrasting styles, both supremely successful.
"They're the regular-season champions, we're the tournament champions," said Bazin of the matchup with BC.
During the regular season, Boston College defeated UML 3-0, and then the teams tied 2-2. Someone who watched both games on Saturday may suggest that the River Hawks will have to play far better than they did against Minnesota State to upset the top-seeded Eagles.
In truth, Minnesota State appeared to be a far more worthy opponent than Denver. The Mavericks entered the day with a 13-game unbeaten streak and didn't back down at all against the River Hawks.
Much as it has done all year, UMass Lowell played the game it had to play to get the victory. Bazin is comfortable with who his team is and how they go about their business. UMass Lowell is 20-2-3 when it scores first in a game, and 21-1-2 when leading after two periods.
The River Hawks usually don't beat themselves, so BC better hope it saved some offense for Sunday.
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