NORTH ANDOVER, Mass. — Playing with heavy hearts after the devastating leg injury to senior forward Carter Madsen last weekend, No. 5 Merrimack took on Providence Sunday night looking to avenge both losses to the Friars this season.
The Warriors defeated the Friars 4-2, avoided the season sweep, and for the moment re-took the fourth seed in Hockey East with every team jockeying for playoff position.
Merrimack increased its record to 14-5-5 (10-4-3 Hockey East), while Providence stays in sixth place in Hockey East and drops to 10-12-2 (8-8-1 HEA).
Merrimack had a 3-2 advantage going into the third period and for the entire period won most of the battles along the boards in the defensive zone preventing any quality scoring chance on goaltender Joe Cannata.
The Warriors closed the door on the Friars when Jesse Todd knocked down Myles Harvey, springing him loose to score the empty-net goal to put the game away.
“It was a playoff type atmosphere and I thought our guys fought through a lot of stuff,” said Merrimack coach Mark Dennehy.
Early in the first period, Merrimack was able to establish a strong fore-checking game and finish its checks cleanly while disrupting the Friars’ offense.
The Warriors got on the board 1-0 at 2:45 when Karl Stollery’s long-range drive was blocked down in the crease and Rhett Bly swooped in and knocked the puck past goaltender Alex Beaudry.
The Friars outshot the Warriors 14-8 in the first period, but only managed to get one puck past Cannata who did a good job to stay square.
Cannata robbed top scorer Ross Mauermann, who got past Stollery, and then stopped Alex Velischek’s slap shot from close range.
“I thought Cannata played terrific,” said Providence coach Nate Leaman. “I think he’s the best goaltender in our league and he should be a Hobey Baker candidate.”
The Friars finally were able to capitalize after Kevin Hart’s shot was blocked, but the puck landed right on the stick of Stefan Demopoulos, who roofed the puck past Cannata to tie the game 1-1 at 9:29.
The tables turned against the Friars when a five-minute major penalty to Mauermann gave the Warriors plenty of time to run a strong power play.
“I’m glad I don’t have to build rockets,” said Dennehy. “You’ve got a power play, take advantage of it, it’s pretty simple.”
The Warriors made them pay 23 seconds into the power play at 19:04 when Stollery blasted the puck through a ton of traffic and into the twine to put the Warriors in front 2-1.
Continuing to wear down the Friars’ penalty killing unit in the second period, Dan Kolomatis caught the Friars in a line change and fed Josh Myers along the boards streaking past his defender and slid the puck past an outstretched Beaudry at 3:01 to give the Warriors a 3-1 lead.
Cannata started the play and was credited with the secondary assist.
With Stollery and Connor Toomey both in the penalty box, the Friars looked to regain momentum on a five-on-three power play.
Cannata stayed poised and stopped Harvey multiple times.
Towards the end of the power play, Harvey’s persistence paid off when one of his many shots elevated above Cannata’s blocker and into the net to cut the deficit in half 3-2 at 5:04.
The Friars got a golden opportunity to tie the game after Jordan Heywood was penalized for a five-minute major.
The Warriors defensively buckled down and gave the Friars no easy shots on their goaltender.
With about a minute left on the power play, the Friars worked the puck down low and Cannata falling down in the crease robbed both Demopoulos and Damian Cross on the doorstep.
After that offensive burst, PC could not get another quality scoring chance on Cannata.
“To come in and face the No. 5 team in the country and limit them to 23 shots, I like our effort and if it continues, I like the direction our club is going to go,” said Leaman.