BOSTON — Merrimack picked the wrong night to put Northeastern on the power play. The Huskies’ power play, that has operated at only 15.7 percent efficiency in Hockey East all season, scored on each of its first four chances en route to a 5-2 win over the Warriors at Matthews Arena on Saturday.
Northeastern broke open a 3-2 game midway through the second, adding two power-play goals in the third when Merrimack began lose composure.
Merrimack was whistled for a total of seven penalties in the third period, including a ten-minute misconduct on Ron Mongeau and a bench minor on coach Chris Serino.
“It started with me taking a bench minor,” said Serino. “It’s not a bright thing to do. I lost my composure and then the team lost theirs. But they took their lead from me.”
Serino also admitted that his penalty kill put in one of the worst efforts of the year, finishing the game with four goals allowed on eight chances.
“We did an absolute horrible job on the shorthanded all night,” Serino said. “I thought for the first two periods we were playing well, but our shorthand was just horrible.”
For the second night in a row, the Warriors spotted Northeastern a 2-0 lead, as the Huskies showed a little more zest in the early going.
But, also for the second night in a row, Northeastern lost that lead. Saturday, however, it was the Huskies scoring the last three goals of the game, one night after losing 4-2.
“That was a nice character game for our guys tonight,” said Northeastern coach Bruce Crowder. “They stayed focus and didn’t panic [when Merrimack tied the game]. Obviously our power play was clicking tonight and that helped.”
Jason Braun (17 saves) got his first win since a 4-1 decision against Boston University way back on Nov. 12. But this time, the win came in relief, as starting goaltender Mike Gilhooly (21 saves) injured his hamstring in a scrum in front of the Northeastern net early in the second period.
Braun shut down the Merrimack offense, not allowing a goal in his 35:50 of work, thus allowing his offense, and specifically the power play, to go to work.
“Braun saw the shots and he solidified things and settled things down,” said Crowder. “Jason’s a kid who’s played over 50 college hockey games. So he’s not going to get blown out of the water in there, and at the same time he’s got a pretty good demeanor to be able to [come in and shut a team down].”
In the Merrimack net was senior Tom Welby (43 saves), making a rare start for Merrimack. He was tested throughout the night, seeing plenty of pucks, especially on the eight shorthanded situations.
Northeastern got on the board at 7:35 when Willie Levesque made a nifty 180-degree move, one-timing a bouncing puck as he faced the Merrimack net. His shot went high over the shoulder of Welby, who was on his knees early.
At 15:35, Northeastern widened the lead thanks to a nice individual move by Scott Selig. Skating down the left wing, Selig cut towards the net, parallel to the goal line, and lifted a shot over Welby’s shoulder, off the right post and in for a 2-0 lead.
Northeastern looked like it might roll, but Merrimack’s Mongeau struck with 22 seconds remaining. Joe Gray took the original shot that Gilhooly stopped, but Mongeau was on the doorstep to knock home the rebound.
Early in the second, Merrimack erased the two-goal deficit completely. John Pyliotis hit the post on the first rush up ice for the Warriors, but recovered to put another shot to the net that Gray tipped home, tying the game just 38 seconds into the period.
From that point, both teams opened things up with a fast-moving, low defense style of play. The result, plenty of scoring chances, and, thanks to good goaltending, plenty of saves.
“The game may have gotten a little too open,” admitted Crowder. “We got caught giving up a lot of odd-man rushes, and I think we dodged a lot of bullets at times.”
Gilhooly’s injury occurred at 2:31 of the second period, right about the point that both teams had their worst defensive breakdowns. But the Warriors were only able to muster two shots in Braun’s first seven minutes in net, and may have missed an opportunity with a cold goaltender.
Northeastern regained the lead at 10:01, scoring for the second time in as many power-play chances. Just three seconds after Tony Johnson was sent off for holding, Mike Ryan wristed a hard shot from the slot that beat Welby under the arm.
Braun finally was tested at 12:19, when the rebound of a Nick Cammarata shot was sent back on goal by Nick Parillo. That forced Braun to make a diving stop to maintain the lead.
Welby was called upon to do the same in the closing minutes, as unbelievable pad saves on Brian Tudrick and Brian Cummings sent the teams to the locker rooms at 3-2 through two periods.
In the third period, Merrimack took two early penalties, allowing Northeastern to score two more times with the man advantage. Levesque scored his second of the night at 6:47, and defenseman Mike Josefowicz scored at 11:42, right after Serino’s bench minor.
Levesque finished the night with three points, adding one assist, and senior Graig Mischler added four assists, giving him 101 career points. Mischler is the 38th player in NU history to score more than 100 points, and with 27 assists, leads all players in Hockey East.
With a 5-2 lead in hand, Northeastern never looked back, especially with Warriors parading to the penalty box. Northeastern outshot Merrimack, 20-5, in the third period, and 48-40 on the night.
The win moves Northeastern two points ahead of Merrimack, into seventh place with 16 points. With 14 points, Merrimack is one point ahead of UMass-Amherst, which is idle until next week.
Both teams return to action next weekend as Northeastern plays a home-and-home series against BU, beginning Friday at Matthews Arena. Merrimack will host Maine — which lost, 3-1, to Lowell on Saturday — for two games next Friday and Saturday night.