BOSTON — Given the postgame assessment of his team’s contest with host Northeastern, Merrimack coach Chris Serino might not want to know how close his squad came to facing a goalie other than NU senior Keni Gibson at Matthews Arena Monday night.
Gibson was scheduled to rest during the game, originally slated for Saturday but pushed to Monday because of Boston’s generous snowfall.
So, as the teams took the ice in front of a sparse crowd of 1,124, there was No. 31 — stingy as ever.
He was other places, too, en route to Northeastern’s 4-3 victory. Namely, in front of 33 Merrimack shots.
“One time we had him down, out of the net and all that was left in the net was his glove,” Serino said. “And we hit it. That was the only thing in the net, his glove, and we hit it.
“You gotta give Gibson credit because he took away five or six (goals),” Serino added. “He didn’t give us any easy ones and he took away five or six. (Jim Healey) took away some, but we still gave up a couple soft ones. That’s the difference in the game. If a guy is taking them away like that, and not giving you any … we had to work our butts off to get three goals. We had a night tonight where, if he wasn’t on his A game, we get five or six. You gotta give him credit for that.”
The Huskies (9-12-3, 5-7-2) opened a 3-1 lead after one period, which they furthered to 4-1 in the second before a late comeback by the Warriors (8-18-2, 1-14-1).
Freshman winger Josh Robertson put NU up 1-0 four minutes into the game, when he picked up a loose puck in the MC zone and stuffed it between Healey’s legs.
With 12:35 left in the first period, Merrimack’s Brent Gough finished a shorthanded two-on-one to knot the score.
It stayed tied for exactly seven seconds.
Northeastern junior Brian Swiniarski collected the puck off the ensuing faceoff, headed towards the goal and buried it past Healey (30 saves).
Three minutes before the end of the opening period, Husky junior Mike Morris deked a defender inside out — turning a two-on-two into a two-on-one — before feeding senior captain Jason Guerriero for a tap-in score.
Halfway through the second period, Morris curled with the puck in the offensive zone, feigned a pass to the left post and snapped his 11th goal of the year to Healey’s left to make it 4-1.
Despite hitting a post in the last minute of the first period and having most of the puck over the line at one point in the second (only to have Gibson snag it with his glove) Merrimack didn’t score its second goal until 19 seconds into the third.
During a Warrior power play, freshman center Jordan Fox dropped the puck behind his back for junior right wing Matt Johnson, who had little trouble connecting with the net despite Gibson diving across the crease in front of him.
Ten minutes later, after Morris couldn’t control a puck he gloved in the neutral zone, Johnson held the puck in the offensive zone, one-on-four, and waited for help to arrive — meaning until he could find junior defenseman Scott Drewicki to pull the Warriors within one, at 4-3.
With the goalie pulled in the final minute, MC applied pressure until Gough was whistled for hooking with 25.5 seconds left. Three consecutive offside calls later, the comeback bid had been bid adieu.
“With the situation we’re in — we’ve lost a few games in a row now, we’re ninth place in Hockey East — I just told them, ‘You know what, you have every reason to quit right now. But, we can win the game,’” Serino said of his team, which has lost six straight.
“The way we were playing, I felt we could win. But we had to bear down a little bit on the puck, we were skating by too many pucks. A team like ours, when struggling like we’re doing right now, you’re trying to score three goals before you score one.
“I told them at the end of the second period, ‘I don’t care if we win or lose the game,” he added. “What’s more important to me now is how we play. And if we play the right way with the right intensity, good things will happen to us.’ I think they did.”
Northeastern evened itself with Massachusetts-Lowell for fifth place in Hockey East with the victory, a much-needed recovery from a disappointing 4-2 loss to Boston College Friday night.
“I thought we were all over them, we just got a little laid back there as the game went on,” Gibson said. “We bent a little bit, but we didn’t break. We just made sure to squeak out a win, a little closer than you’d like it to be, but it’s a big win for us. Those two points are huge right now.
“It’s huge to just get a win right under your belt, start getting the winning attitude again. Instead of a losing streak, you’re back onto a winning one — even though it’s one. It gets (the BC loss) out of your mind. BC’s over with now; we beat a team we needed to beat.”
Husky coach Bruce Crowder agreed with Serino and Gibson.
“I thought, for the most part, Keni Gibson was the difference in the first two periods,” he said. “They outshot us in the game, and I don’t think he was as sharp in the third, but we need that out of him.
“It’s very important, after you lose, to try to bounce back with a win — especially in league play,” he said. “For the most part, I was very disappointed with our effort (against BC). Obviously part of it was BC — they really took it to us, but they outattempted us something like 30-2 in the second period. We were just trying to get our guys to work hard every shift tonight and hopefully go for 60 minutes. I’m not quite sure we did it for 60 minutes but we did it for long enough to get the W.”
Northeastern will play at Maine Friday and Saturday night, while Merrimack’s next contest is Thursday at Boston University.