NORTH ANDOVER, Mass. — Third-string goalie Frank McLaughlin steadied Merrimack’s listing ship for the second straight weekend. Only this time, a determined Boston University club refused to let him steal the spotlight.
Named Hockey East defensive player of the week for his 41-save performance in a 5-2 win over Massachusetts last Saturday, McLaughlin again impressed by turning aside 30 Terrier shots, but fell victim to versatile BU senior Bryan Miller’s first two-goal game since his freshman year.
Miller broke a 1-1 tie with a 40-foot blast from the blue line with 13:04 left as both teams skated a man down, and the Terriers held on to complete the weekend series sweep, 3-1, Saturday night in front of a season-high 2,611 at Lawler Arena. The back-to-back victories vault BU (5-3-0, 4-1-0) ahead of idle Massachusetts into first in the Hockey East standings, while Merrimack falls to 1-5-0 in league play.
“We’ve just got to keep our spirits up and keep playing hard,” said Warriors head coach Chris Serino, left dumbfounded by more injuries to his already thin corps of forwards. “When we get everybody back (from injury) at Christmas, I think we’re going to be a very good team.
“(The sweep) is not the end of the world,” added Serino, whose club may have to face New Hampshire Tuesday night without linemates Jordan Black and Matt Byrnes, who both suffered shoulder injuries. “We’ve just got to convince our players of that. It’s not how you’re playing now, it’s how who finish.”
BU head coach Jack Parker took a much different view on his club’s first regular-season series sweep since February 2003.
“It’s huge in a whole lot of ways, mostly because it can give us a little separation from other teams in the standings,” said Parker after his team’s first road win of the season. “In the long run, this sweep might be important, but we’ve still got a long way to go.”
Playing right wing in Friday night’s 6-4 home win, Miller began last night’s game on defense but was soon moved back up front when teammate Matt Radoslovich was penalized with a game misconduct for a five-minute hit-from-behind major early in the first period. He scored his first goal of the night on the power play in the first period as a forward and his second as defenseman again during the 4-on-4 situation.
“I think we’re going to have to come up with a new name for the position I play,” Miller joked. “But I was just fortunate to be at the right place at the right time, especially for the first goal.”
McLaughlin stood out in a first period completely lacking any type of sustained tempo thanks to 25 minutes worth of penalties in addition to the game misconduct. Had Miller not done his best David Ortiz of the Boston Red Sox impression with a hockey stick, the game would have remained scoreless through 40 minutes of play.
Merrimack failed to capitalize on a pair of two-man advantages in the opening period, the first coming when Radoslovich was whistled for the major hitting from behind penalty at 6:10. The BU senior drilled Warriors junior Nick Pomponio head first into the boards from behind while teammate Brad Zancanaro was already serving two minutes for an obstruction interference call.
Just 30 seconds after killing off Radoslovich’s five-minute penalty and the Terriers on a power play of their own, Miller batted a midair rebound of a blistering Brian McConnell shot from the slot into the top left corner over McLaughlin’s catching glove at 11:40. It was BU’s third man-advantage goal of the weekend against the Warriors, who had killed 36 straight short-handed situations entering the home-and-home set.
After a scoreless second period, Bryan Schmidt’s 20th career goal and team-high fifth of the season tied the game 5:19 into the third period. The junior defenseman lofted a wrist shot over the glove of BU goalie Stephan Siwiec (23 saves) off a perfect feed from Jeff Caron for a power-play goal.
But Miller untied it just 1:37 later with the game-winner as both teams skated short-handed after Merrimack freshman Jarrett Sousa cost the hosts a power-play opportunity for a hit after the whistle with Zancanaro already headed to the penalty box for tripping.
“That was an undisciplined penalty that really cost us,” Serino said. “We had the momentum on our side and were really starting to get things going.”
With the Warriors pressing for the equalizer late, BU caught them on a line change as Zancanaro, with Schmidt on his back, dished a nice pass off to John Laliberte, who zipped a shot over McLaughlin’s shoulder with just 53.9 seconds remaining to cement the win.
“I thought I played well in the first two periods and I thought we took it to them in the third period,” said McLaughlin, the game’s No. 2 star. “I thought we deserved to win. I just had two mental letdowns in the third period that cost us.”