NORTH ANDOVER, Mass. — The ninth ranked Merrimack Warriors and the Providence Friars faced off for the second time this season with playoff implications on the line for both teams.
With a win Merrimack would clinch home ice advantage in the Hockey East Quarterfinals, and Providence with a win would get one step closer to the eighth and final Hockey East playoff spot.
Merrimack successfully clinched home ice advantage with 6-1 victory over Providence, but with UMass losing to Maine the Friars can grab the eighth spot with a victory over Merrimack tomorrow night and one more UMass loss to Maine.
With both teams trying to get their feet moving in the first few minutes, the Warriors owned the better of puck possession, and started to click offensively while out-skating the Friars.
The Warriors would walk into the first intermission with a 3-0 lead and outshooting the Friars 14-8.
“They jumped on us. I thought they moved the puck really well and came at us with speed, and we had a hard time containing them,” said Providence head coach Tim Army.
The Warriors got on the board 1-0 when Elliot Sheen found Ryan Flanigan streaking up the boards and Flanigan ripped his ninth of the season top-shelf past Providence netminder Alex Beaudry.
Turnovers hurt the Friars all period long and Mike Collins would hurt them on the scoreboard intercepting a pass at center ice, skating into the slot, and slipping the puck to Jesse Todd who found the top shelf for a 2-0 lead.
Just 26 seconds later, Carter Madsen led the rush into the attacking zone and nicely set up Flanigan who got past his man and roofed the puck for his second goal of the game and a 3-0 lead.
Merrimack goaltender Joe Cannata was protected relatively well throughout the first stopping Ian O’Connor and Eric Baier from long range, but was called upon to make a great pad save with just seconds left on sharpshooter Kyle MacKinnon who got loose down the boards.
Providence caught the Merrimack defense napping in the opening seconds of the second period with Tim Schaller getting behind the net and scoring on a wraparound just 16 seconds in and getting on the board 3-1.
For most of the second, both teams played terrific defense clogging the passing and shooting lanes. Merrimack defensemen Adam Ross and Kyle Bigos, and Providence defensemen Daniel New and Mark Adams protected the boards well and laid out some big hits.
The Merrimack power play went to work with six minutes left and was quickly bolstered by the return of forward Stephane Da Costa
who sat out the previous five games due to a lower-body injury.
“We came out hard. We got back to it in practice after last weekend and played our game,” said Da Costa.
Da Costa recorded two assists as the Warriors increased the score to 5-1 on two power play opportunities with Joe Cucci twice stuffing the puck behind Beaudry.
Russ Stein took over in net for Beaudry in the third period, but Providence was on the defensive and Merrimack was looking for more goals.
After Stein dodged bullet after bullet, Merrimack finally got the puck by him on the power play with Karl Stollery softly slipping the puck to Da Costa and his rocket increased Merrimack’s lead to 6-1.
“We played well tonight,” said Merrimack head coach Mark Dennehy. “The team that is playing the best at the end of the season is the one that’s going to have the most success, and coming into next week we need to make sure we’re playing well.”
Cannata was sharp on the evening, stopping 18 of 19 shots before third string goaltender Nick Drew saw his first ice time of the season in the final two minutes.
The Warriors will finish the season no lower than fourth place with a (23-7-4) overall record and a (17-7-3) record in Hockey East. The Friars still have a chance at eighth place but drop to (7-19-8) overall with a 3-17-7 conference record.