NORTH ANDOVER, Mass. — Merrimack spotted Northeastern a 2-0 lead during a disastrous first period, but responded with two goals in the second and another two in the third to come away with a 4-2 win. Anthony Aquino led the offense with a goal and two assists while goaltender Joe Exter recorded 43 saves.
As a result, Merrimack (13-6-3, 6-12-2 HEA) exits the Hockey East cellar, leapfrogging idle UMass-Amherst into a tie for seventh place with Northeastern (11-14-4, 5-10-4 HEA). Both clubs had entered the game in dire need of points to guarantee a playoff berth and break league losing streaks. Merrimack had posted an 0-4-1 record in its last five Hockey East games while Northeastern had lost three straight league contests.
Ironically, Merrimack’s power play, which had been suffering through an 0-for-25 drought dating back to Jan. 19, proved to be the difference even though it was officially credited with only one tally. Another came at the exact end of a penalty, while yet one more came four seconds after the player came back, but before he entered the defensive zone.
Northeastern came out firing on all cylinders in the first period, outattempting the Warriors, 26-8, outshooting them, 18-4, and taking a 2-0 lead.
“We just stunk on Sunday,” said Merrimack coach Chris Serino in contrast, referring to a bad 5-2 loss to Lowell. “We didn’t play, we didn’t compete, we didn’t do anything.
“The first period today was different. We were playing on edge. We were playing tight. It wasn’t because guys weren’t trying or working hard; they just wanted to win so bad to break this [streak].”
Greg Mischler got the scoring started for Northeastern at 10:32 on the power play. His shot along the ice from the left beat goaltender Joe Exter far side.
While his teammates were showing no support, Exter did himself no favors three minutes later on the second goal, allowing what was likely his softest one of the season. Freshman Eric Ortlip shot from along the right boards at the hashmarks and the puck slipped past Exter.
“One of the things about Joe is that he doesn’t usually give up poor goals,” said Serino. “But one thing about him is that when he does, he isn’t through for the game. He doesn’t make excuses.
“He came in after the period and had had 18 shots on him and all he said was, ‘My fault. I let two [lousy] ones in.’
“The kid’s a leader.”
In the opening minutes of the second period, the Huskies kept the momentum going until a shift by the fourth line of Alex Sikatchev, Luke Smith and Lou Eyster lit a spark under Merrimack.
“We were awful and they came out that one shift and were just all over [Northeastern,]” said Aquino. “That gave us extra momentum. [We said,] ‘Guys, if our fourth line can do it, we can do it, too.’ … They got us back in the game.”
From that point on, the Warriors took over the period in almost as dominating fashion as Northeastern had the first.
“It was a crucial period for us,” said Serino. “We were either going to go down the chute, maybe for good, or show some character and come back. We did.”
Nick Cammarata got the Warriors within one on the power play, carrying the puck down from the right point and putting a backhand shot on net through traffic. It didn’t find the back of the net, but the rebound did at 9:53 of the second period.
A little over five minutes later, Stephen Moon rocketed a one-timer into the top of the net to even the game. The goal came at the precise moment that Kevin Welch’s ill-advised penalty for slashing elapsed.
“It was a total embarrassment from the second and third period on that our kids let this thing get away from them both in an undisciplined way and also in a way of intensity,” said Northeastern coach Bruce Crowder. “It was downright embarrassment.”
Nick Parillo scored his 14th goal of the season just four seconds after the end of a John Peterman hooking penalty. The game-winner came at 11:36 of the third period on an innocent looking opportunity. Parillo put the puck on net from a spot close to the left corner. It hopped into the air, over NU goaltender Mike Gilhooly’s back and into the net.
At 17:15, Aquino added an important insurance goal, his 16th, swatting the rebound of a Parillo shot into the net.
Despite the 4-2 lead, Merrimack gave Northeastern one last gasp with a penalty at 17:42. However, six seconds later, the sides became even again after Willie Levesque was whistled for running over Exter.
The two clubs meet in the back end of a home-and-home series on Saturday night at Matthews Arena.