BOSTON -- Providence College's bid to get back to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2001 was derailed on Friday, as the top-seeded Lowell River Hawks upended the Friars, 2-1, in the opening Hockey East semifinal tilt at the TD Garden.
The win was sweet revenge for Norm Bazin's River Hawks, who were unceremoniously dumped from the Hockey East playoffs last year in the quarterfinal by the Friars despite having home ice. This year, it was Lowell (25-10-2) that came out on top, going toe-to-toe with the fourth-seeded Friars (17-14-7) before getting two third-period goals to secure the win.
The Lowell victory ends the Friars' season, and sends the River Hawks into the Hockey East finals for the third time in their history, and the first time since 2009.
The game featured a great goaltending duel between freshmen Jon Gillies of Providence (31 saves), the night after he was named the league's Rookie of the Year, and Lowell's Connor Hellebuyck (34 saves). When the smoke cleared, it was Hellebuyck who won the battle, shutting down the Friars over the last 51 minutes, and allowing Lowell to post its come-from-behind win.
And for the second year in a row, Nate Leaman's young Friars saw their season end at TD Garden in the league semifinals. However, it looked promising early on for the Friars, who struck first.
Providence freshman Kevin Rooney, slashing across the low slot, picked up the rebound of Noel Acciari's wrister, and tucked it past the outstretched right leg of Lowell's Hellebuyck. It was Rooney's first career goal, giving the Friars a 1-0 lead at 8:59.
Lowell nearly knotted the game late in the first stanza, with Friar Myles Harvey in the box for interference. But Christian Folin's power-play bid from the right point, which beat Gillies, glanced off the left post and stayed out with 40 seconds left.
The River Hawks turned up the heat in the second frame, but Gillies was immense, turning aside 15 Lowell shots, including two point-blank bids by Riley Whetmore and Joseph Pendenza. Lowell had another last-minute bid when Whetmore corkscrewed Harvey into the ice on the right half-wall, but his shot sailed wide right.
Lowell finally broke through at the 34-second mark of the third period, knotting the game at 1-1. Pendenza, driving down the left side, ripped a shot that Gillies blocked. The puck popped into the air, and as Friars captain Kyle Murphy spilled into Gillies, Lowell's A.J. White potted the puck for his second of the year.
Hellebuyck kept the game deadlocked, stuffing Friar Chris Rooney at the doorstep at 6:27. The River Hawks rewarded their goalie, grabbing their first lead at 12:30.
Whetmore feathered a terrific saucer pass from the left wing that found Scott Wilson streaking into the slot. Despite Friars defenseman John Gilmore's suffocating presence, Wilson was able to corral the puck and in a single motion rip it past Gillies' glove for a 2-1 Lowell lead. Wilson's 15th goal of the season proved to be the winner, with Hellebuyck and the Lowell defense shutting down the Friars the rest of the way.
With the win, Bazin's River Hawks -- already assured an NCAA bid based on their No. 5 national ranking and sixth place in the national PairWise rankings -- will have a chance to compete for their first-ever Hockey East championship on Saturday night.