NORTH ANDOVER, Mass. — Merrimack seized a 3-0 lead after two periods, then withstood a furious Boston University rally that made it 3-2 with 13 minutes left in regulation before the Warriors righted the ship.
Jesse Todd’s second-period deflection of a Brendan Ellis shot from the point a second after a power play expired held up as the game-winner in the 3-2 victory on Tuesday.
Joe Cannata stopped 28 of 30 shots to earn his 13th win of the year. BU goaltender Kieran Millan recorded 38 saves in the loss.
With the win, Merrimack moved to within a point of third place behind Maine and BU while holding a game in hand over the Terriers. The Warriors also took the season series, 1-0-2, a potential key tiebreaker in the home-ice race. It marked the first time in school history that they won the season series over both BU and Boston College.
Merrimack also expanded on the list of school records since moving up to Division I: best start (13-4-4), longest winning streak (six) and highest national ranking (13th).
“It’s important for us to win a season series against a team we’re competing for home ice with,” Merrimack coach Mark Dennehy said. “[But] I refuse to let any of this stuff affect me any differently than I want it to affect our players. We talked about this being the most important game of the year because it was our next game.
“They weren’t handing out any trophies tonight. But we could help ourselves out by taking care of business and winning at home. It was very businesslike; it was very matter-of-fact. Not much rah-rah. That’s the benefit of having a veteran club.”
A BU hit from behind with seven seconds remaining that initially did not look serious left Joe Cucci on the ice for an extended time. He left under mostly his own power but appeared dazed and rubber-legged. After the game, he was still hurting, according to Dennehy.
For BU, the loss represented a missed opportunity to solidify its home ice standing and also reflected the team’s ongoing modest results since opening the season 6-0-1 and undefeated through 10 games. The Terriers entered the holiday break losing three of four and recorded another loss and a tie before recent wins over Vermont and Harvard.
“We played pretty well in the third period but it was too little, too late,” BU coach Jack Parker said. “It was a decent hockey game for us but not the kind of effort we need to beat good teams.
“They outfought us in many, many areas. They won a lot of battles in their zone and in the corners, battles in front of their net and in front of our net. We had almost opportunities that we didn’t quite get to because they outbattled us in the Grade A [area]. Overall, we got outbattled for pucks too many times.”
Jeff Velleca got Merrimack off on the right foot just 3:11 into the game, redirecting from the left post a Karl Stollery shot from the point. The goal, Velleca’s second of the year, came while play was four-on-four.
Two-on-ones by Todd and Mike Collins and then Chris Barton and Brandon Brodhag contributed to an eventual 16-6 shot disparity but the period ended with the score still 1-0.
BU came out flying at the beginning of the second, most notably when Joe Pereira collected a pass at the offensive blue line and broke in all alone. Cannata’s pad save, however, foiled the opportunity. BU continued to press until Ryan Flanigan’s goal at 4:47 made it 2-0.
“We had chances to tie it up right off the bat [in the second],” Parker said. “We were playing the way we wanted to play then … they got the second goal and we got deflated.”
The Warriors made it 3-0 on Todd’s deflection of Ellis’ wrister, a goal initially credited to Ellis. For the third time this year, however, the freshman saw his first collegiate goal taken away and awarded to a teammate.
BU’s best opportunity in the period came on the power play at the 15:22 mark when David Warsofsky dropped down into the slot and one-timed a rocket but clanged iron.
BU, which had charged back in a November game at Merrimack to tie a game it had trailed 3-1, looked to be repeating history when Charlie Coyle scored on a bouncing backhander at 3:25 of the third and Pereira made it 3-2 at 6:56.
For the next several minutes, the action was all in the Merrimack end. Corey Trivino missed an opportunity from the goalmouth. Cannata stopped Alex Chiasson on a partial two-on-one. Sahir Gill threatened with a wraparound and Ryan Santana almost caught Cannata out of the net.
Dennehy opted not to call a timeout because he considers his team one of the deepest in Hockey East. Instead, he went back to rolling his lines.
In time, Merrimack rallied, getting a breakaway attempt from Brodhag and further pressure until it forced a penalty with 7:10 remaining that stemmed the BU tide for good.
When Velleca outraced Warsofsky for a loose puck with 2:45 remaining, leading to another BU penalty, the outcome became all but certain.