BOSTON, Mass. — Coming off of a disappointing loss to Providence on Friday night, Boston University sputtered through two periods in which they were fortunate to be in a tie game.
They did, however, save the best for last.
The Terriers scored three goals in the final frame to unknot a 3-3 deadlock on the way to a 6-4 win in front of 5,941 at Agganis Arena. Colby Cohen scored twice for the victors and now is tied for second nationally in goals by a defenseman, trailing only Brendan Smith of Wisconsin. Nick Bonino added four assists for the Terriers, while Ross Gaudet and Joe Pereira each added a goal and an assist. Left wing Chris Barton had a three-point night for Merrimack.
“That was a hard-fought loss for Merrimack,” Terriers coach Jack Parker said. “I thought they played great. I was unbelievably disappointed with my team the first two periods. We looked like we were trying not to lose again. ‘What if we lost to Merrimack? Oh, that would be an awful weekend.’ And I thought we played pretty well against Providence.
“[Tonight] we got outshot 26-14 in the first two periods in our own rink. We came out in the third period and played well enough to win.”
Parker reserved his highest praise for sophomore goaltender Grant Rollheiser, who had a career high in saves with 43 and is now 2-0-3 for the season.
“I thought our best player tonight was our goaltender. He had a lot of tough saves, and he saw a lot of rubber.”
Meanwhile, Merrimack coach Mark Dennehy found some consolation in his team’s effort, despite the fact that the Warriors have now lost nine of their last 10 games.
“I thought we played really well for large stretches of that game,” Dennehy said. “At the end of the day, this time of year you just want to be playing well, and I thought we played real well.”
Warriors’ captain Chris Barton reflected on this team’s tough luck.
“Any time you put 44 shots on the net, you’re doing some good things,” Barton said. “One bounce or another and that game’s different. I think that’s been the story for us the last few games.”
BU took the early lead at 2:25 of the first period when Pereira nudged the puck off the boards at center ice to send Gaudet in on the right wing. The sophomore’s wrist shot beat goalie Andrew Braithwaite high, glove side.
Merrimack tied it at 12:56 when BU senior Eric Gryba fell down in his own end, allowing Carter Madsen to skate in all alone before roofing a backhander.
BU regained the lead at 15:42, thanks to some slick passing on the power play. Captain Kevin Shattenkirk slipped the puck from the right point to Bonino in the faceoff circle. Bonino got it to Vinny Saponari right in front of the net, and the right wing surprised everyone with a backhanded pass behind his back to find Colby Cohen for a slam dunk of a goal at the far post.
The Terriers looked flat in the second period, and Merrimack took all of 32 seconds to tie the game. Barton rushed in on the right wing and fired the puck towards the net. Rollheiser went down in anticipation of the shot, but the puck caromed off a defender’s skate and went right to Stephane Da Costa for an easy goal.
At 7:38, BU went ahead once again, as Cohen proved to be uncanny once again when it comes to one-time slap shots. Set up by Shattenkirk in the left-wing circle, Cohen’s laser beat Braithwaite low on the far side.
Playing four-on-three, Merrimack retied the game at 10:59 when Joe Cucci redirected a Barton shot into the net.
The Terriers finally hit their stride in the third period.
“We didn’t play any offense in the first two periods except on the power play,” Bonino said. “It took us much too long to get adjusted to their forecheck.”
At 11:53 of the final period, BU regained the lead for good. Wade Megan threw the puck at the net from the point, and Gaudet took one whack at it before Pereira buried the rebound.
“I think we kind of feed off of each other,” Pereira said of playing with linemate Gaudet. “As much as we like to say we’re skill players, we know that we’re grinders. We want to work it down low and use our speed. We’re starting to develop a little chemistry.”
The home team picked up some cushion at 16:12 when Chris Connolly banked the rebound of a Bonino shot off the post before it hit Braithwaite’s back and landed a few inches over the goal line.
Merrimack made it interesting again with an extra-attacker goal by Barton at 18:46, but Saponari’s empty-net goal with 4.8 seconds remaining finally sealed it.
BU (7-10-3, 5-8-2 Hockey East) travels up Commonwealth Avenue to play Boston College on Friday night before hosting New Hampshire on Saturday.
“We’ve got a long way to go to be poised again and to be thorough again,” Parker said. “I thought that we had turned the corner after we got from the break. So it was a step backward, but not a costly step backward.”
Merrimack (7-12-0, 4-8-0) will try to snap its six-game losing streak at Massachusetts-Lowell Friday evening before playing at home against Providence the next night.