By Chaz Scoggins
LOWELL -- Last fall UMass Lowell coach Norm Bazin, who had helped coach a few 20-goal scorers at Colorado College and was once a 20-goal scorer for the River Hawks himself, said he'd rather have a team with six 10-goal scorers than three 20-goal scorers.
The River Hawks now have seven, and that offensive balance is one of the reasons they went from five wins and last place a year ago to 22 wins and the second seed in next week's Hockey East Tournament.
Wilmington sophomore Joseph Pendenza netted his ninth and 10th goals of the season and also set up another goal with a perfect backhand pass as eighth-ranked UMass Lowell trimmed Providence 4-2 last night in front of a throng of 5,310 at Tsongas Center.
UML's win, coupled with Northeastern's 5-4 overtime upset of Boston University last night, enabled the River Hawks to finish in a second-place tie with the Terriers. By virtue of owning the tie-breaker with BU, UML is the second seed and will host the Friars in the best-of-three first round beginning on Thursday at Tsongas.
It is the fourth time in the league's 28 years the River Hawks have finished second.
"It's scoring by committee," Bazin reiterated before last night's game. "When you have different guys who can contribute on any given night, it's tough to defend. Hopefully we're a team that can bring three lines, and that's the mark of a good team.
"It used to be teams had three 20-goal scorers. I'd rather have six 10-goal scorers ... and before the season's over we could have eight."
Bazin, concerned about the possibility that workhorse goalie Doug Carr could play as many as four games in eight days, decided to start sophomore Marc Boulanger in goal last night. Boulanger was still looking for his first collegiate victory after an 0-11-3 campaign last winter, and he made 22 saves last night to get it.
The River Hawks (22-10-1, 17-9-1) netted the first goal of the game at 9:45.
Terrance Wallin took a shot from the right boards and aimed for the right corner of the cage, where Pendenza was waiting for a neat deflection that rewarded him with his ninth goal of the season.
The River Hawks upped their lead to 2-0 at 3:51 of the second period. Scott Wilson shoveled a short pass across the slot to Derek Arnold as both went to the net, and Arnold slipped the puck between Alex Beaudry's pads for his 17th goal.
The assist for Wilson gave him 35 points for the season, the most for a UML freshman since Greg Koehler had 36 in 1996-97.
The punchless Friars (12-18-4, 10-14-3), with one goal in their last three games and four in their last five, refused to be discouraged and cut UML's lead in half 3 1/2 minutes later. Andy Balysky jammed the puck past Boulanger at the right post for his sixth goal at 7:29.
The River Hawks salted the game away with two goals in the third period.
A beautiful backhand pass across the slot from Pendenza hit senior Matt Ferreira on the fly, and he tucked the puck under the crossbar for his 11th goal at 1:43.
"I'm pretty proud of that," a grinning Pendenza said. "Ferreira has been kind of a mentor for me, so I was happy to set him up."
Pendenza redirected an Arnold drive from the left circle past Beaudry for his second goal of the night while UML was on a power play at 14:08. Pendenza, who ended an eight-game goal-less streak, said deflecting puck past goalies is as much luck as it is an art.
"It's a little bit of both," he said. "I know I've been in a little bit of a slump lately. So the easiest thing is to go to the net and sometimes the puck hits you. It is something you have to work at, too."
He said he wasn't overly concerned by his goal drought.
"My game's not just based on scoring goal. If I'm playing good defense, I'm happy. The goals will come when they come."
Damian Cross scored a meaningless goal for Providence with 11 seconds left in the game.