LOWELL — The game was fairly slow and almost dead-even. The scoring chances were about equal. The losing team finished with more shots but three fewer goals.
When it’s March and Hockey East games are on the calendar, the goalie tends to get the spotlight.
Two freshmen stood between the pipes at Tsongas Center Friday night: Connor Hellebuyck for UMass-Lowell and Jon Gillies for Providence, No. 1 and No. 2 in the league in goals-against average and save percentage. Gillies played bigger.
No. 18 Providence (15-11-7, 13-7-6) scored three goals on rebound chances in a 3-0 triumph over No. 7 UMass-Lowell (21-10-2, 15-9-2) to end the River Hawks’ nation-leading seven-game winning streak.
“It was a good one,” said Providence coach Nate Leaman. “I thought we came in, executed pretty well. And Jonny played great for us. I thought our pucks went in and theirs didn’t.”
Gillies, a 19-year-old freshman who extended his Providence season record with his fifth shutout of the season, made 31 saves to put the Friars in a tie with UMass-Lowell for first place in Hockey East. Both schools have 32 points, and they end the regular season Saturday night in Providence.
“Our goal in the beginning of the year was a trophy,” said Gillies, a native of South Portland, Maine, who was drafted in the third round by the Calgary Flames in 2012. “I just thought about my goal throughout the season to be here and to give my team a chance to win every night.”
There wasn’t much action in the first 20 minutes. Neither team could get a breakout going. Providence finally went to work in the offensive zone when River Hawks captain Riley Wetmore took an interference penalty midway through the period.
The Friars seemed insistent on sliding the puck around the outside, hardly getting a clean look on Hellebuyck. They went without a shot on goal during their first extra-man advantage.
Hellebuyck then stoned Providence sophomore sniper Ross Mauermann, who has amassed 47 points in 70 games at the collegiate level, on a shot from the slot. Paul de Jersey smacked a shot from the right wing that Hellebuyck denied, but the rebound landed right on Mauermann’s tape and the Friars took a 1-0 lead.
The Friars scored on a similar play in the second period when another Flames prospect, Mark Jankowski, fired a shot that left Kevin Hart with a tap-in. It marked just the second time in six games that Hellebuyck (23 saves) allowed more than one goal.
In the third, the Friars struck again on a rebound chance by Tom Parisi.
Gillies, who entered with a 2.09 goals-against average and .931 save percentage, had himself a night on the other end. He controlled rebounds and limited UMass-Lowell’s second-chance opportunities while making 31 saves.
With a defensive unit that blocked 19 shots, the Friars shut down a five-on-three in the second period and kept the River Hawks off the scoresheet.
“That was big-time there,” Leaman said. “They get pucks to the net, crash the net extremely well. They throw a lot from off-angles and we have to help Jonny out by picking up guys around the net. I thought we did a decent job of it but they still got some good chances tonight and Jonny made some saves.”