NORTH ANDOVER, Mass. — Merrimack dominated Maine, 6-2, seizing a 2-0 first-period lead before expanding it to 4-0 in the second and putting the game away after a brief Black Bears rally.
With the win, the Warriors drew to within a point of second-place Boston College while holding two games in hand.
Jesse Todd scored power-play goals just five and six seconds into two man advantages and Karl Stollery added a third to beat Maine at its own game. The Black Bears had entered the contest clearly atop Hockey East and third in the nation with a 27.8 percent conversion rate.
Joe Cannata stopped 24 of 26 shots while lifting his record to 11-4-4.
“I thought we came out ready to play,” Merrimack coach Mark Dennehy said. “We’re all business. I thought we did a good job with that, not getting too high. We just kept plugging away.”
Ryan Flanigan recorded a career-best four points, all on assists.
“We really came out flying,” Flanigan said. “Guys are working harder away from the puck and making quicker plays when they’re holding onto the puck.”
Maine entered the contest with a four straight wins and eight in its last nine games, but lost in almost every category of play: even strength, special teams and goaltending.
“We got out-competed, plain and simple,” Maine coach Tim Whitehead said. “Merrimack won the loose pucks, they blocked the shots, and they stuck to their game plan. It was a very strong win for them and they deserved it.
“I was not pleased with how we played and to give up three goals on the man advantage is just unacceptable.”
Though Merrimack didn’t score its first power-play goal until it already held a 3-0 lead, the special teams dominance still took the starch out of any Maine comeback attempt. Todd’s goals, which owed a debt to screens by Kyle Singleton, also exposed problems with the Black Bear penalty kill.
“We lost the faceoffs clean, and then we didn’t block the shot,” Whitehead said. “You can’t lose draws that clean, especially on the penalty kill, and you’ve got to block some shots.”
From Merrimack’s perspective, it was all according to plan.
“We noticed that they sometimes like to push it on the penalty kill and pressure our points really hard,” Todd said. “So we took advantage of that with a few plays we drew up in the dressing room.”
Maine opened the first period with the better chances until Merrimack jumped in front on a two-on-one goal by Carter Madsen from Elliott Sheen.
Jordan Heywood followed that at the eight-minute mark with a goal from the high slot, following the play as a trailer and capitalizing on a pass from Sheen.
The period ended with the Warriors still holding the 2-0 lead thanks to Cannata’s save on a Joey Diamond breakaway in the closing minutes.
Merrimack broke the game open in the second period. Kyle Bigos scored from the right point thanks to a screen that prevented Maine goaltender Dan Sullivan from ever seeing the puck. That tally came barely more than a minute into the period.
Six minutes later, Todd scored just five seconds into a power play, only the second of the game, giving the Warriors a 4-0 lead. Singleton didn’t show up in the official scoring but provided the all-important screen in front.
Maine briefly rallied with two goals in the span of four minutes. Freshman John Parker scored his first goal on the power play, converting from the low right side immediately after the Black Bears’ top unit failed to connect on passes back to the point.
Spencer Abbott then made it 4-2 at 13:30 on a great rush down the left side, getting a half step on Bigos, then cutting across and deking Cannata.
The narrowed margin proved short-lived.
Shortly after a Black Bear three-on-one fizzled, Merrimack reestablished the three-goal lead on another Todd power play goal, a near carbon copy of his previous one except that this came six, not five, seconds into the advantage.
A five-minute major on Bigos gave Maine brief life in the third period even though the first two minutes would be played four-on-four, but another penalty instead gave the Warriors a four-on-three opportunity they converted for the final margin.