NORTH ANDOVER, Mass. — The Maine Black Bears might want to change their names to the Keystone Cops, because Friday night they stopped one of the biggest all-time robberies from happening.
Trailing 4-3 entering the third period, Maine scored once in the third before Martin Kariya sent Michael Schutte on in for a game-winning breakaway at 3:44 of overtime as Maine defeated Merrimack, 5-4. Maine dominated the game, outshooting Merrimack, 53-20, in a game that the Warriors easily could have stolen.
“That’s our nature,” said Maine head coach Shawn Walsh. “We had 60 shots in a game against Ohio State and lost.
“But the right guys have got to get your chances. We’ve got certain guys that could have that breakaway and never had scored. But Mike [Schutte] is the guy that is scoring right now.”
And that he is. Schutte scored the tying goal in the third period before netting the game-winner, giving him eight points (six goals and two assists) in his last four games.
It was the first time all season that Maine has won a game while giving up more than two goals, and the first time that Merrimack dropped a game in which the Warriors led after two.
“I’m just really pleased at how we played in the third period,” Walsh said. “We handled a little adversity, giving up two four-on-four goals [to give Merrimack the lead].”
Walsh made a surprise move right before the third period, pulling starting goaltender Matt Yeats (12 saves), who couldn’t be faulted for any of the four Merrimack goals, and replacing him with Mike Morrison (four saves). For Morrison, it was only his third appearance since Dec. 14, 2000, and was his first win Oct. 28, 2000, his first appearance of the season.
“I put Mike in to spark us and he certainly seemed to do that,” Walsh said. “We had a little discussion in the locker room after the second period, just about work habits and being on the puck.
“It was our third come-from-behind win in the month of February, which is a real good sign for us.”
Maine controlled the early going in the first period, but it was Merrimack that had the first quality scoring attempt. Anthony Aquino’s shot from the high slot clanged off the outside of the left post at 3:40.
But midway through the period, Maine, which dominated the frame by outshooting Merrimack, 13-7, finally cashed in not once, but twice.
Cliff Loya got the Black Bears on the board banging home the rebound of a Todd Jackson shot to finish off a 3-on-2 rush at 8:18. And at 12:09, Eric Turgeon fired a seeing-eye wrist shot from the right point past Merrimack goaltender Joe Exter (48 saves) after Kariya won an offensive-zone draw.
But Merrimack answered 51 seconds later after a Maine turned the puck over moving into the offensive zone. John Pyliotis skated 2-on-1 with Rob Mongeau and, after trying to feed Mongeau, the puck returned off a Maine defender. Pyliotis fired a hard shot over the fallen Yeats, pulling Merrimack within a goal at 2-1.
The Warriors tied the game 7:53 into the second, finishing off a perfectly executed 3-on-2. Pyliotis carried the puck in on the left wing and fed Mongeau in the slot. After pulling the attention of the defenseman, Mongeau dished to Joey Gray, who buried the puck before Yeats could cover the open net.
But just over a minute later, the Black Bears responded. Another odd-man rush, this time a 2-on-1, resulted in a wide-open side of the net for Robert Liscak to feather a shot for a 3-2 lead.
But a 4-on-4 created by penalties to Maine’s Chris Heisten and Merrimack’s Tim Foster at 13:15 became Merrimack’s gold mine. Aquino and Vince Clevenger scored two goals in 62 seconds with the extra one ice to turn a 3-2 deficit into a 4-3 Warrior lead.
Maine’s offense owned the Warrior defense in the third, outshooting Merrimack, 23-3, and 49-19 through regulation, but only could beat Exter on the power play. Michael Schutte buried a Heisten deflection of a Niko Dimitrakos shot at 6:50 to even the score.
But from there, Exter became a brick wall, forcing the overtime frame.
In overtime, Merrimack seemed to have a second wind, but botched coverage late in the session created the game-winner.
“We had four out of five guys do the wrong thing on the forecheck and [Maine] got a breakaway,” said frustrated Merrimack head coach Chris Serino, whose Warriors dropped into a tie for the final playoff spot with UMass-Amherst. Amherst mustered a 3-3 tie at BC on Friday, and holds the tie-breaker over Merrimack, having won the season series.
“It’s a real simple forecheck that we’ve been [using] all season,” said Serino, “and [Maine] ends up putting the puck where we should be.”
As frustrated as Serino is, his club will need to overcome that, as they face off with Maine again on Saturday night in North Andover. His Warriors now need at least a tie in its final two games, combined with losses by Amherst, to have a chance at the playoffs.
“I’ve told the guys all week that we’d have to win in the last three game to make the playoffs,” said Serino. “I knew we just couldn’t back in.”
Maine moves within one point of New Hampshire, idle this weekend, and has all but clinched home ice in the first round as fifth-place Lowell fell on Friday. Now Boston University, a 2-1 winner over Northeastern on Friday, is the only team that can catch Maine for home ice.
But Walsh is looking higher.
“We control our own destiny and our sights are on second place,” Walsh said. “We have three tough games left; we’re nine periods from second place, and that’s where our sights are right now.”