NORTH ANDOVER, Mass. — If you went to the concession stand or rest room during the wrong 38 seconds, you missed all the scoring. Goaltenders Tom Welby and Matt Yeats each allowed one goal midway through the second period, but otherwise stopped 33 and 22 shots, respectively, in a 1-1 tie.
While two points for either team would have been huge, the singleton allows Merrimack to escape the Hockey East cellar while also keeping Maine within four points of second-place Providence, its opponent in two season-ending games next weekend.
“It was a good tie for both teams,” said Maine coach Shawn Walsh. “They needed it to obviously move them ahead of UMass [into eighth place] and it keeps us in striking distance of Providence.
“The tie doesn’t hurt us at all. We’re right where we need to be. Obviously, I would have loved to have gotten two points, but we didn’t get two points.”
Merrimack fittingly got its strongest performances from seniors John Pyliotis and Welby on Senior Night, the last regular-season home game of the year. Welby earned the game’s No. 1 star, keeping the Black Bears at bay despite their clear territorial advantage. Pyliotis scored the Warrior goal and was frequently involved in the team’s best opportunities.
“It’s the most pressure I’ve faced in my four years,” said Welby. “Freshman year, it was easy to go out and perform in the playoffs because if I screwed up, what’s the big deal? I’ve got three more years.
“But this is a much different situation. Basically it rested on my shoulders. One bounce could make the difference. I’m just happy to put in a solid effort and help the team. We’re back in the playoff picture and that’s all that counts.
“It’s what every guy wants, an opportunity to play under pressure like this and to perform. I’m not really satisfied with [the] tie. I probably could have had that goal. But to just go out there and perform and see all the emotions in the locker room afterwards, that’s why you play the game.”
The result came one night after Maine came back to tie the game with Merrimack in the third period and win it in overtime, 5-4.
“Last night, we came out and sat on a lead and just waited and waited and waited,” said Merrimack coach Chris Serino. “[Tonight] we talked about not playing not to lose. We wanted to play to win. … We were going after them at the end.”
Maine held a territorial edge in the scoreless first period, outshooting Merrimack 11-6. However, both sides generated quality chances. Merrimack’s best opportunity came on a two-on-one with Yeats making the stop on Vince Clevenger; Maine’s best came on a deflection of a Dan Kerluke shot that forced a flashed pad save by Welby.
The scoring drought continued early in the second when Maine’s Chris Heisten clanged a post four minutes in and a subsequent Black Bear flurry still game up empty.
Merrimack finally got on the scoreboard at 11:01 with some offense by accident. An attempted pass by Pyliotis caromed off defenseman A. J. Begg’s skate and through Yeats’ five hole.
Although it had taken over 31 minutes to get the first goal on the scoreboard, Maine answered just 38 seconds later. Todd Jackson scored his third of the year off a faceoff. The puck was underneath a Merrimack defender only to squirt out to Jackson who roofed it past Welby.
Maine finished the period with another sizeable shot advantage, this time, 14-6, for a two-period total of 25-12. In the third, the Black Bears would own the territorial advantage only to be outshot, 10-5. However, both goaltenders continued their sharp play.
Midway into the period, Welby made a sprawling stop on a sprawling Heisten at the doorstep. A couple minutes later, Yeats got a piece of a Pyliotis shot and it went wide. Back at the other end, Welby stopped Robert Liscak and Michael Schutte in quick succession.
In overtime, Maine generated three shots to Merrimack’s one, but the Warriors had the best of them in a Pyliotis and Joe Gray two-on-one that they could not convert.
Merrimack’s top rookie, forward Marco Rosa, reportedly suffered a torn MCL. He will undergo tests early this week.
Both clubs finish the regular season next week. Maine hosts Providence for two while Merrimack’s lone game is at Boston University.