LOWELL, Mass. — Merrimack forward Jesse Todd completed the hat trick with a game-winning goal with 36.9 seconds left in the game as the Warriors squeaked by with a 4-3 victory over Massachusetts-Lowell in front of 4,379 stunned fans at the Tsongas Center.
Todd’s game-winning goal came from a tipped shot from Chris Barton. Barton shot from the top of the right faceoff circle, and Todd was standing at the near post and tipped it in at waist height, beating River Hawks goalie Doug Carr over the shoulder.
The goal went under review, checking to see if Todd’s stick was below the crossbar. The referee confirmed that the goal was good.
“He has worked really hard; he had a season end last year prematurely,” Merrimack coach Mark Dennehy said of Todd. “By the time he got hurt, he was playing great hockey. He really dedicated himself to getting in shape, showing up in shape, and has been a really good player for us.”
On the other side, Lowell goaltender Doug Carr kept the River Hawks in the game, making 31 saves, including several spectacular saves that easily could have gone in.
“I thought our goaltender played as well as he can,” Lowell coach Blaise MacDonald said.
The first period of action started out slow, but the momentum picked up as the period went on. Merrimack carried the play in the beginning, but Carr was there to make the saves to keep them scoreless early on.
Todd broke through with a goal 10 minutes in, firing a shot that beat Carr short side just above the left pad.
It took only six minutes for the River Hawks to tie the game up with a short-handed goal by Joe Pandenza. He stole the puck at the Merrimack blue line and skated through the right faceoff circle and cut in front of goaltender Joe Cannata (14 saves), placing it by his left pad.
Lowell took the lead early in the second period with a power-play goal by center Riley Wetmore.
River Hawks forward David Vallorani had the puck at the bottom of the right faceoff circle and he fed the puck up to Wetmore, who was parked at the top of the circle. He fired a one-timer that beat Cannata top-shelf over his left shoulder. Going into the game, Merrimack had the best penalty kill in the nation at 93.5 percent (45-of-48).
Less than two minutes later, Merrimack forward Shawn Bates took a pass from defenseman Adam Ross in the neutral zone, giving him a breakaway. He rushed in and faked Carr to his right and slid it between his legs for a 2-2 tie.
Later in the second period, Merrimack took two penalties in the same play, giving Lowell a five-on-three power play. The River Hawks weren’t able to create many chances as the Warriors were keeping them to the perimeter and not allowing them good shot selection.
“Merrimack has got a great penalty kill and we were fortunate to get two goals off of them, and we had a hard time getting shots on net,” MacDonald said.
Going into the third knotted at 2, Lowell struck first with a goal by freshman Shayne Thompson 5:23 into the period. He stole the puck in the offensive zone and shot from the faceoff circle, beating Cannata over his left shoulder.
Lowell carried the 3-2 lead deep into the third before giving up it with over three minutes left.
Todd got his second of the game, receiving the puck off of the back boards and roofing it near post past a sprawling Carr.
That tying goal took the wind out of Lowell’s sail, and Merrimack got the winner with less than a minute to play.
MacDonald thought his team was outplayed in all facets of the game.
“Give Merrimack credit, I thought they played very well, they beat us in every facet of the game start to finish, and they definitely got what they deserved,” he said.
Killing the two-man advantage was important to Merrimack.
“That’s hockey; we have been part of a lot of games where we got outshot and scored on our chances, but you can’t let it faze you,” Dennehy said. “You play the whole 60 minutes and you figure out what you’ve got, and our guys did a bang bang job tonight.”
Despite giving up two goals on seven power plays, Merrimack did just enough to earn the victory.
Lowell (2-7-2 overall, 2-7-0 in Hockey East) and Merrimack (3-2-4, 2-2-3) will go at it again Saturday at Lawler Arena at 7 p.m.