ORONO, Maine — Merrimack’s eight-game losing streak to 10th-ranked Maine came to end, 2-2, on a gritty and hard-fought performance exemplified by its goaltender Jim Healey.
Healey stopped 37 of 39 shots on the night and stood on his head as his team was outplayed throughout the night. The game went down to the wire with Maine continuously attacking and Merrimack consistently turning those chances away.
“I am happy to get out of here with a tie tonight,” said Merrimack head coach Chris Serino, “Healey made all the saves he had to make and we made many good defensive plays. Guys made great efforts tonight.”
The first period was uneventful until the final minute. After Maine won a draw in its own end, center Michel Leveille fed the puck across the zone to defenseman Jeff Mushaluk, who headmanned the puck to Brent Shepheard in the neutral zone. Shepheard beat the Merrimack defenseman wide and cut to the net. With a one-handed backhand shot that managed to sneak through Healey’s five hole, giving Maine a 1-0 lead with just 22 seconds remaining in the period.
In the second period Merrimack was able to hold off the Maine attack, which came out with momentum from the late-first-period goal. After holding off the rush, Merrimack drew a delayed penalty, during which the Warriors’ Bryan Schmidt scored off a rebound to tie it 1-1 with 14 minutes remaining in the period.
Merrimack continued with the scoring touch. Maine goalie Jimmy Howard was disturbed by a fray in the crease. In the aftermath, Merrimack forward Matt Byrnes was able to play a pass to fellow forward Jordan Black, who fired an easy wrist shot into a Howard-less Maine net giving Merrimack a 2-1 lead with 11:28 remaining in the period.
In the third, Maine struck back with 16:09 on a hustle goal. The puck was dumped into the corner and fought for by two members of each side. Maine forward Mike Hamilton kicked the puck to Travis Wight, who played the puck out of the Merrimack corner to a streaking Keith Johnson. Johnson then one-timed a snap shot into the top corner of the net, tying the game.
“We are the so-called fourth line,” said Johnson. “We work hard, that’s
all we can do, we win loose pucks, and we got a goal tonight that was a
huge boost for this team.”
Maine gained its sixth power play of the game afterwards, but Healey made numerous huge saves. Maine’s power play dropped to 0-for-6 for the game.
In overtime, the Black Bears turned up the tempo, holding the puck in the Merrimack zone for the majority of the time, but to no avail.
Maine outshot Merrimack 39-12 in the game.
“Every Hockey East point is precious,” said Maine Captain John Ronan. End of the year we’re going to wish we had one point here or one point there and this makes tomorrow a must-win game.”
Merrimack will face off with Maine again Saturday night at the Alfond
Arena in Orono at 7 p.m.