PROVIDENCE, R.I. — Three third-period slapshots rallied Providence to a 4-2 win over Merrimack and into possession of seventh place in Hockey East.
Trailing a Merrimack squad that was enjoying its first lead since Jan. 15, the Friars used Colin McDonald’s back-to-back rockets to first tie the game and then regain the lead. David Carpentier, honored along with five other seniors before the game as part of Senior Night, then added an insurance goal with a slapper of his own for the final score of 4-2. It was the Friars’ first win this year when trailing after two periods.
The win, combined with a 4-1 victory on the road one night earlier, gave Providence (10-19-4, 5-14-4 HEA) a sweep which moved it two points ahead of Massachusetts in the standings. UMass, however, retains control of its destiny, holding one game in hand and the head-to-head tiebreaker. The Minutemen could reclaim seventh place next weekend when they play a home-and-home series with Northeastern while the Friars place a single game at Massachusetts-Lowell.
Even so, the two wins give the Friars three in their last four games and an optimistic view of the playoffs since clinching a berth a week ago with a win over Maine.
“We were looking behind us for the most part,” McDonald said. “After every loss we’d go and see [the results] hoping that Merrimack lost. Once we got that playoff spot we realized that we were right next to seventh place and here we are in seventh place right now.
“It’s a good feeling, knowing that we’ve struggled all year, but we’re in seventh place right now. We’re learning how to win, finally. I think that will carry through during the playoffs.”
For Merrimack (8-25-2, 1-21-1 HEA), the loss was another bitter pill to swallow. It was the Warriors’ 13th straight, a dubious new school record that left them without so much as a tie in 2005. And it came despite finally taking a lead in a game for the first time since the third period against Lowell on Jan. 15, a span of nine games totaling 526 minutes and five seconds.
“We’re undisciplined in taking penalties, in where we’re supposed to be and what we’re supposed to be doing,” Merrimack coach Chris Serino said. “That’s one person’s fault. [It's] mine. If we’re not disciplined by now, it’s my fault.
“Just to be in the right place, that isn’t difficult. That doesn’t take a lot of talent. They work hard every night. There isn’t a night where I could say that they quit. They haven’t done that.
“But is that part of just doing what you want to do? It’s a little more difficult to do things the way you’re supposed to do them instead of the way you want to do them. That’s the easy way. And when we do them that way, the puck goes in the net.”
No pucks were going in the net in the first period. It ended with Providence owning a 13-7 shot advantage, but it included few top scoring chances. The first grade A opportunity came on the game’s first power play. Merrimack moved the puck left to right behind the net and fed Ryan Schmidt, who had dropped down from the point. Shooting from inside the faceoff circle, Schmidt clanged iron on the far post.
On a subsequent four-on-four, the Friars generated a Chase Watson and McDonald two-on-one, but Merrimack goaltender Jim Healey made the stop on Watson’s shot.
On the heels of the scoreless period, the second stanza featured three goals, all on the power play. Providence broke the scoring ice at 4:17 on Jamie Carroll’s 11th of the year. Chase Watson got the puck from the point to Carroll in the slot and the sophomore’s 180-degree spin and shot beat Jim Healey to make it 1-0.
However, Merrimack soon picked up a glittering opportunity to at least tie the game, if not take the lead, with a 56-second five-on-three power play. Although the Warriors couldn’t cash in on the two-man advantage, they did knot the game on the subsequent five-on-four as Matt Johnson shoveled into the net a rebound of a shot from the point.
Jeff Caron’s slapshot from the left point on the power play gave Merrimack a 2-1 lead, sending the Warriors into the locker room for intermission with an unaccustomed spring in their step.
It would, however, prove short-lived. The Friars evened the game at 7:37 of the third period, shortly after failing to convert on a power play. McDonald circled into the slot and ripped a slapshot into the top of the net for his 10th of the year.
“We fed off that momentum after getting that first goal in the third,” PC Coach Paul Pooley said.
The Friars certainly did that. Little more than two minutes later, McDonald gave them their lead while at even strength. And Carpentier’s insurance goal at 16:33 sealed the win for the suddenly resurgent Friars.
With 1:03 remaining, PC senior Mike Wolfe took over in the nets, his third game action of the season.