NORTH ANDOVER, Mass. — In the first game of a best-of-three of the Hockey East quarterfinals the fifth seeded and No. 14 University of Maine Black Bears traveled to a very vibrant Lawler Rink to take on the fourth seeded and ninth ranked Merrimack College Warriors.
“The atmosphere was incredible,” said Merrimack captain Chris Barton, “These are the games you want to play in and what you’ve worked for all year.”
Coming into Lawler where the Warriors were (12-2-1) during the regular season, the explosive Maine offense could not outscore the Warriors and fell 5-4 in game one of the series.
With the score tied at 2-2 in the third period, the Merrimack line of Carter Madsen, Ryan Flanigan, and Elliot Sheen were the deciding factor in the win for Merrimack.
Two minutes into the third period Flanigan rushed the puck deep into the Maine zone and tapped the puck in front of Maine goaltender Dan Sullivan for the driving Sheen to stuff it in 3-2.
“I think we need to play better in the d-zone”, said Maine forward Robby Dee, “We gave them too many chances in front of the net.”
Maine would answer soon after on the power play with Nyquist slipping past everyone and finding Dee down low for Dee to tie the game at 3-3 getting the puck past Merrimack goaltender Joe Cannata.
Just past the halfway point of the third, Flanigan jammed for the puck at the red dot at Sullivan’s right side and blindly slapped at the puck which slipped under Sullivan’s blocker for a 4-3 Merrimack lead.
Sheen gave the Warriors a key insurance goal getting a turnover cutting inside Will O’Neill and roofing the puck past Sullivan for a 5-3 lead on a shorthanded goal.
“I thought we just kept plugging,” said Merrimack head coach Mark Dennehy, “Madsen’s line was super tonight and we did what we needed to do.”
Maine would score on the same power play to make the score 5-4 with five minutes left but timely stops from Cannata and desperation work from the Warriors held off the Black Bears.
Both goaltenders Cannata and Sullivan were tested early with both showing their poise with good positioning and quick moves in a fast-paced first period.
Cannata came up huge for his team after a turnover deep in Merrimack’s zone resulted in Joey Diamond having a free pass at Cannata in alone down low and Cannata robbed the quick Maine forward.
The Warriors rushed Sullivan’s end of the ice numerous times only to have the final pass to finish the play be broken up by a last minute poke check or stick lift.
Merrimack defenseman Kyle Bigos had the best chance on Sullivan launching a hard wrist shot on net with the Maine netminder getting just enough of a blocker save to deflect the puck.
Bigos would be a factor again this time for Maine as he rammed Maine blueliner Jeff Dimmen into the boards resulting in a five minute major, leading to Nyquist ripping the puck past Cannata for a 1-0 lead into the first intermission.
Maine completely silenced the Merrimack crowd seven minutes into the second period with Kyle Beattie shooting the puck low on Cannata producing a rebound which Dee put behind Cannata 2-0.
Just three minutes later, the momentum shifted to Merrimack starting with Stephane Da Costa producing a turnover and rushing the puck along the boards.
Sliding the puck over to Jesse Todd, Sullivan stopped his initial shot but the rebound bounced into the slot for Karl Stollery who jumped into the play and jammed it in to put the Warriors on the board 2-1.
“I thought Merrimack did a great job of bouncing back anytime we scored and they got some of those ugly goals that you really need,” said Maine head coach Tim Whitehead.
With the crowd rejuvenated, the Warriors drew a penalty and went on their second power play of the night.
With Nyquist in control of the puck he nudged the puck down low to Mark Nemec only to have it stolen by Chris Barton who roofed the puck past Sullivan to tie the game at 2-2, with Nemec going down to the ice in disbelief and the Warriors regaining their confidence going into the third period.