BOSTON — If UMass-Amherst makes it into the Hockey East playoffs, Merrimack is going to make sure it does it the old-fashioned way, by earning it.
With the Minutemen pulling off a dramatic 2-1 overtime win at UNH in New Hampshire on Friday, Merrimack avoided elimination from the playoffs with a road victory of its own.
Joe Exter’s 30-save night helped the Warriors to hold off Boston University 3-2 Friday night in front of spring break-depleted crowd of 2,918 at Walter Brown Arena.
Lucas Smith, Nick Parillo, and Vincent Clevenger scored the goals for the Warriors (14-18-4, 7-14-3 Hockey East), who now must hope that UNH beats UMass-Amherst in its home rink Saturday night. A Minutemen tie or win will oust the Warriors from the quarterfinals in the absurdly competitive Hockey East playoff race.
“If by chance UMass takes three out of four from UNH and we don’t get in, will I be disappointed?” Warrior coach Chris Serino said. “Well, yeah, but not as disappointed because I know we did what we had to do tonight. That’s the bottom line.
“I told them before the game, you know, guys, lookit, let’s play,” Serino said. “I don’t want to sit around watching radios and TVs. If we win, and we don’t get in the playoffs, hey, let the chips fall where they may. At least we know we did what we had to do. You have to battle your [butt] off to get eighth place in this league. It’s crazy.”
“We heard that the UNH-UMass game was 1-0 [in the third period], and we had to go out there and just lay it on the line,” Exter said. “I think that’s the most pressure this team’s faced all year and we did nothing but step up to the challenge. Every single guy on the ice came through.”
Terrier coach Jack Parker liked his team’s effort more than the result.
“Besides the fact that we could only generate two goals out of 50 cumulative shots [attempted], the power play kind of disappeared on us tonight as well,” Parker said. “I thought their goaltender played pretty well, I thought their defense played well in front of him, as far as keeping us from rebounds.”
Playing without captain Carl Corazzini, who injured a shoulder in practice Wednesday and will not play until at least next weekend, the Terriers started off cautiously but soon gained momentum. With the teams playing four on four at 4:51, BU got on the scoreboard first.
Defenseman Colin Sheen’s slap shot from the left point was blocked by Warrior goalie Joe Exter, but the rebound came out to Nick Gillis in the slot. Gillis backhanded home a shot between the goalie’s skates for a 1-0 lead.
Merrimack picked up the equalizer within three minutes. Towering defenseman Stephen Moon fired a pass from the Warrior zone to fourth-line centerman Lucas Smith, initiating a two-on-one break. Smith opted for the shot and flummoxed Terrier netminder Sean Fields with a stick-side wrister that floated high into the net.
In the waning minutes of the period, a power play gave the Terriers a good chance to regain the lead. Mike Pandolfo set up Dan Cavanaugh streaking across the slot, but the centerman couldn’t quite get the handle for a strong shot, and the puck went wide.
BU’s territorial edge seemed to continue in the second period, but its offensive pressure soon backfired. Chris Dyment attempted to throw the puck on net from the right point, but Warrior left wing Nick Parillo intercepted the puck and raced off on a breakaway. Fields made the initial save, but Parillo punched home the rebound for a sudden 2-1 Merrimack lead just 1:11 into the second period.
The first seven shots of the period belonged to the visitors, as the Terriers season-long second-period woes seemed destined to continue. However, the tide turned, as the Terriers reeled off 11 straight shots of their own. Yet all of this was to no avail on the scoreboard.
BU had a bit of a scare at 17:30, when a garden-variety shot from the point by freshman Tony Johnson trickled over the top of Fields’ glove and fell in the crease before being cleared by an alert defenseman.
The Terriers dodged another bullet with 1:10 left in the period. Ron Mongeau’s bad angle shot actually beat Fields and slid perilously close to the goal line before ticking the post and going wide.
The Terriers had a few good opportunities on a power play early in the third, but Merrimack proceeded to pick up a huge insurance goal halfway through the period. Senior Vincent Clevenger picked up the rebound of a Tony Johnson slap shot from the point, then wheeled and beat Fields with a shot from the face-off circle. From the way Clevenger celebrated, one had to wonder if he thought the Terriers were done for the night.
But they weren’t, as BU increased the urgency of its play. Freshman Mark Mullen’s first collegiate goal was timely for the Terriers, as he beat Exter low with a 10-footer from the right-wing faceoff circle at 14:14.
It was a wild ride the rest of the way, as Exter did his best to withstand the surging Terriers. The Warrior seniors led the way, responding to the pressure of potentially having to turn in their uniforms this weekend.
“John Pyliotis, the last shift of the game, it was like he was possessed,” Serino said. “He was after the puck, he made two or three great plays down low. Vinny Clevenger took the game over there in the last four or five minutes.
“That’s the way it is: You’re in a hostile environment, and tomorrow you could be turning in the uniform. And they responded to that.”
BU (13-17-3, 9-11-3 Hockey East) has now sealed its fate for the quarterfinals in that it cannot host a series next weekend. The Terriers will finish either fifth or sixth in the league and will play at Providence, Maine, or UNH. First, however, they finish their regular season by hosting archrival Boston College on Sunday game evening in a game telecast by Fox Sports New England.