LOWELL, Mass. — The eight-game losing streak seems a thing of the past, ancient history forgotten by the entire UConn locker room.
In the midst of that streak, a power play goal from the fifth-ranked team in the nation with five seconds left in the second period would have been crippling for the Huskies. Conceding a penalty shot shortly after tying the game in the third period would have been disaster.
Both those things happened Sunday afternoon at Tsongas Center. Neither stopped UConn from completing its first ever weekend sweep in Hockey East.
The Huskies came from 1-0 down after the second period to defeat No. 5 UMass Lowell 2-1 Sunday afternoon. It was UConn's first win when trailing after two periods under third-year head coach Mike Cavanaugh. The Huskies (5-10-0, 3-7-0 Hockey East) were 0-32-3 in previous instances, including 0-5-0 this year.
"I told our guys, if you want to be successful today, you'll have to be ready to be toe-to-toe in a prize fight," Cavanaugh said.
The first two periods played out like two hard-hitting fighters vying for a title. UMass Lowell had the harder punches, but UConn repelled them well. The River Hawks finally drew blood with five seconds left in the second period, when Adam Chapie finished at the far post off a pass across the face of goal from Dylan Zink.
UConn did not falter, though. The third period was all Huskies. UConn outshot UML 17-6 in the final 20 minutes and limited its time in the penalty box.
The Huskies struck back to tie on a weird play that saw the puck bounce around like a pinball before hitting Shawn Pauly's skate and bouncing past UML goaltender Kevin Boyle.
"I didn't kick it, so it was all good," Pauly said.
That would have been a stroke of bad luck, had Pauly actually kicked it. But the Huskies got to stare adversity in the eye again about 40 seconds later, when Derek Pratt was whistled for taking down Ryan McGrath on his way to goal, giving UML a penalty shot. UConn goaltender Rob Nichols took away any angle McGrath may have had, and he could only push his attempt into Nichols' pads.
Nichols stopped 30 shots, none bigger than that penalty shot, though a case could be made for the breakaway attempt of Edmonton Oilers prospect Evan Campbell in the second period. Campbell claimed the puck on a face-off at the other end and broke free, but Nichols did not let him near his net.
Both those plays were instances when UConn's bench was louder than the crowd supporting the River Hawks. As Nichols pointed out, that was the case regularly Sunday.
"It's pretty cool to see how everyone came together this weekend and how much more fun it was this weekend than it has been," Nichols said.
With seven minutes to play, Tage Thompson stepped up again with his seventh goal of the year, this time a rebound effort in the slot. Like his other six goals, however, it came on the power play.
Thompson was arguably the No. 1 star of the weekend for the Huskies, scoring three times in two games. Thompson is now the second UConn player to score in consecutive games this season. Naas accomplished the feat Saturday after scoring Nov. 24 against Boston College.
"Tage again. He's a power-play goal machine," Pauly said. "We get a power play, and odds are, if it's on his stick, it's going in right now."
This is the first time UConn has won consecutive games since Jan. 9 and Jan. 10, when the Huskies won at Army and at home against UML, also ranked No. 5 at the time.
Entering the UMass Lowell series, it seemed like nothing could go the Huskies way. Over the last two games, nearly everything has gone right, and the Huskies picked up two massive wins. The players are all smiles, and while they always believed they could turn this season around, there is now physical proof.
"It was just mental toughness," Thompson said. "We knew stuff wasn't going to bounce our way. It's part of hockey. You're going to get some bad bounces. They're going to come back with goals. It's just about how you weather the storm. I think tonight, we just wanted it more than them. And the whole series, actually."