BOSTON -- Maybe the jetlag and the 1,800-mile round trips simply caught up with Notre Dame. But after two straight successful visits to Boston, the Fighting Irish wilted under a relentless attack of the Lowell River Hawks, as the defending Hockey East champions clipped Notre Dame, 4-0, at the TD Garden on Friday in the league's opening semifinal game.
Lowell will defend its crown Saturday against the winner of the second semifinal between 3rd-seeded Providence and 4th-seeded New Hampshire. It was the River Hawks' third straight win over the Irish this season.
The 2nd-seeded River Hawks (24-10-4) won with the type of opportunistic scoring that UML coach Norm Bazin expected from Notre Dame. Bazin promised a high-energy effort from his troops, and they delivered, riding a pair of power-play goals to deny the 8th-seeded Irish (23-14-2) the chance to take the Hockey East crown in their inaugural season in the league after winning the final Central Collegiate Hockey Association title last year.
The luck of the Irish deserted Notre Dame when Lowell drew first blood on a deflection off ND defenseman Kevin Lind at 10:13. Lind was battling Lowell's Josh Holmstrom down low in front of ND goalie Steven Summerhays when Lowell's Christian Folin wristed a shot from the point that was a good foot wide right. But the puck glanced off Lind's skate and behind Summerhays for a 1-0 Lowell lead.
Lowell doubled its lead at 13:54, taking advantage of a surprisingly passive Irish defense. UML's Derek Arnold carried the puck with speed into the Irish zone, and when ND defender Eric Johnson backed off, the senior from Foxboro fired a dart over Summerhays' glove into the top right corner for his 11th of the season and a 2-0 River Hawks advantage.
The River Hawks threatened to break the game open with 40 seconds left in the opening stanza, but Summerhays made a terrific stop of Holmstrom's stuff attempt at the doorstep to keep the Lowell lead at two. The Irish netminder was sharp to start the middle frame as well, blunting Michael Colantone's deflection at the two-minute mark.
Ninety seconds later, though, the River Hawks got their third, capitalizing on David Gerths' boarding penalty. Summerhays (18 saves) was able to block a Scott Wilson blast from the right faceoff dot, but lost the puck in an ensuing scrum with Holmstrom. The biscuit squirted free to Lowell's Evan Campbell, and the freshman from British Columbia buried it for a commanding 3-0 Lowell lead. It was the first time the River Hawks enjoyed a 3-0 lead since early February.
Lowell's Connor Hellebuyck preserved the lead with a big-time stop at 10:25. The sophomore went post-to-post to deny a wide-open Jeff Costello, who was set up by a seeing-eye cross-ice feed from ND's Steven Fogarty.
Another Irish penalty, and another Irish deflection, gave the River Hawks a 4-0 lead at 13:21. With ND's Johnson serving two minutes, Lowell's Zack Kamrass patiently walked the puck in from the left point, and then fired a shot into the low slot that deflected off the stick of Irish defender Stephen Johns and past a beleaguered Summerhays.
Notre Dame picked up the intensity in the third, but Lowell's layered defense, and several top-flight stops by Hellebuyck (35 saves), kept the Irish at bay. Hellebuyck, a Hockey East first-team all-star, clearly enjoys playing at the Garden, having surrendered only a single goal in three games dating back to last season. His TD Garden shutout streak now exceeds 171 minutes. He and the River Hawks will have a chance to add to those numbers on Saturday in the Hockey East title bout.