NORTH ANDOVER, Mass. — “Twenty-fours hours; what a difference,” Warriors’ coach Mark Dennehy said after the post-game press conference. His team was perfect on the penalty kill after giving up three power-play goals Friday to Northeastern. A night after a 5-1 loss, his team rebounded well.
The Merrimack College Warriors came back from a 1-0 deficit and beat the Massachusetts-Lowell River Hawks 3-1 at Saturday at Lawler Rink. Chris Barton had the game-winning goal, and the Warriors scored a power-play goal for the seventh game in their last eight contests.
“They deserved to win,” River Hawks’ coach Blaise MacDonald said. “They outplayed us.”
“It’s about playing better [every game],” Dennehy said.
Merrimack outshot Lowell 33-21 thanks in part to 15 blocked shots. Dennehy credited the shot blocking and passing lane clogging to his defense’s success.
“Cannata moved crisper tonight,” Dennehy said.
Cannata finished the game with 20 saves, including 11 in the third period. He started his first game since the 5-4 loss against the River Hawks on Jan. 22, when he made 25 saves on 30 shots faced.
Both teams tried to feel things out in the first, but neither got a stranglehold on the puck or the scoring.
That was good news for Merrimack, which gave up three goals in the first on Friday night. Both teams went 0-for-two on the man advantage in the first on Saturday.
The second period featured both teams’ first goal of the night, with the River Hawks getting on the board first.
In five-on-five play, David Vallorani recorded his ninth goal of the season. After a scramble for the puck in the nearside corner, Vallorani wristed it toward the net. The low shot trickled past Cannata, off his right leg pad and in.
It took the Warriors until their fourth opportunity of the night, but they scored a power-play goal, which was Jeff Velleca’s first of the season.
Velleca was a victim of the penalty, then capitalized on the chance to tie the game. Velleca got upended by Ryan Blair, who went to the penalty box for tripping. On the man advantage, Jesse Todd controlled the puck to Carter Hutton’s right. He crossed it, looking for John Heffernan, and Hutton saved Heffernan’s shot. Todd headed toward the net and received a pass right on the doorstep, but Hutton extended his right leg to the post to make the save. Merrimack recovered the puck, and Velleca put a wrister on net that beat Hutton.
The Warriors added the game-winner and some insurance in the third. Their first lead ended up being the only one they would need. Barton snuck a wrister past Hutton from the nearside faceoff circle 3:30 into the third period.
Ryan Flanigan scored his first goal of the year to ice the game for the Warriors one minute after Barton’s grabbed the lead. Flanigan’s initial shot went off the boards behind the net after a pass from Stephane Da Costa. Flanigan followed the puck to the other side of the net, where his one-timer found a hole.
Flanigan said his line (John Jamieson, J.C. Robitaille and him) tries to do the small things right. If what Dennehy said about last night’s game was true, then the Flanigan line played great.
“It’s all about execution,” Dennehy said on Friday. His team did that well on Saturday and earned the win.
The River Hawks have a home-and-home series with Boston College next weekend, with Friday’s game at Tsongas Arena. The loss kept them in a tie with Boston University for fifth in Hockey East.
Merrimack will travel to Burlington, Vermont to take on the Vermont Catamounts for a pair of games on Feb. 12 and 13. They are three points out of the last Hockey East Tournament spot.