Thursday night was all about rebounds and near-misses at Pegula Ice Arena.
Massachusetts-Lowell pounced on the rebounds to propel its offense, while Penn State was just inches off so many times.
Derek Arnold scored a pair of goals for the River Hawks while goalie Connor Hollebuyck made 37 saves for the 4-0 shutout win.
Scott Wilson had a goal and an assist and Adam Chapie also scored for the No. 13 River Hawks (7-4), a Frozen Four team last spring.
“I think they’re better,” Penn State coach Guy Gadowsky said. “I think they play a tremendous game, I really do.”
Matt Skoff turned back 24 shots for the Nittany Lions (3-4-1) to open the two-game series. The teams meet again at 7 p.m. Friday.
The patch of ice in front of the net turned out to be key — at both ends of the ice.
Penn State held a 37-28 advantage in shots on goal, and the disparity was even larger at 71-46 in total shots attempted, adding what was off the mark or blocked.
“We got shots on net,” Penn State defenseman Nate Jensen said. “We had some quality chances. We’ve just got to find a way to put it behind the goalie.”
But the Nittany Lions rarely had an opportunity to even get their sticks on rebounds, while the River Hawks put in three put-backs and all four scores came between the circles or on the doorstep.
“They did a really good job keeping us outside even after we shot,” Gadowsky said. “I thought he let out some rebounds too, but we didn’t get them. They did a really good job of protecting the house after that.”
Lowell coach Norm Bazin, whose team has won six of its last seven, was happy with his team’s protection.
“Any shutout’s a big team effort,” Bazin said. “I thought the defense played a key role in blocking some shots. I thought our forwards did a good job paying the price that way also.”
Whenever the puck did get through, Hollebuyck was up to the challenge.
“The goalie was seeing everything,” Jensen said. “We had some great opportunities, but he saw it straight. We just couldn’t get one past him.”
Lowell scored just 1:51 into the game, with Chapie taking a feed from Stephen Buco from behind the net and firing a wrist shot from the slot past Skoff.
The score really burned the Nittany Lions, with almost the entire team caught deep in the end and no one was checking Chapie.
“A good team doesn’t give that up,” Gadowsky said. “When it’s a 1-on-4, you can’t turn a 1-on-4 into a wide open chance.”
“We had three guys caught behind the net,” Jensen said. “They just dished it out front. It was a pretty easy chance for them to score.”
The River Hawks buried a pair of rebounds for goals in the second period.
The first came in a scramble in front of the net, with Wilson pouncing on the puck while Skoff was face-down on the ice after the initial save. The second score completed a rush up the ice by Lowell, with Skoff stopping the first try by Joe Gambardella and Arnold sending the puck top-shelf.
“In the second, I thought we finally got some bodies to the net front,” said Bazin, whose team will play its third game in four days Friday. The River Hawks beat Princeton on Tuesday.
In the third, after Skoff turned back another Gambardella attempt, Arnold again was open in the slot to knock in the puck.
“It’s tough,” Jensen said. “We can’t have that. We’ve got to clear bodies in front of the net. We’ve got to make a statement (Friday).”
As for those near-misses, Jensen took the puck off a second-period draw and rifled the puck from the point, ringing the shot off the post.
And twice the puck was centered from the corner to David Goodwin cutting open through the middle, but the passes were just a few inches away from his stick, trickling harmlessly away.
“We had quite a bit of shots,” Jensen said. “I wouldn’t say they got all the bounces, we just didn’t get any tonight.”
Notes: The announced crowd was 5,998, although there were several hundred empty seats for what appeared to be the smallest crowd of the season. Friday’s game is a sellout and a full house is expected. … The Nittany Lions cut down on penalties Thursday, taking just six for 12 minutes — nearly 10 minutes below their average for the season. … Two Nittany Lions left with injuries — forward Max Gardiner and defenseman Luke Juha. Gadowsky said Gardiner likely would not be healthy for Friday’s game, but he did not know the status for Juha, who took a shot to the leg with six seconds left in the game.