NORTH ANDOVER, Mass. — Riding a six-game winning streak, No. 3 Boston College faced No. 9 Merrimack, who desperately needed a win to have a chance at home-ice advantage in the playoffs.
The score was tied 1-1 in the third period, and both teams were working hard to take care of the puck and protect their defensive zones.
Merrimack goaltender Joe Cannata stopped numerous BC chances including the line of Bill Arnold, Barry Almeida and Steven Whitney.
The Eagles got the good bounce they needed at 14:29 when a long range shot from Tommy Cross rebounded into the slot where Paul Carey was waiting. Carey turned and whipped the puck on net that went past Cannata’s blocker and into the net for a 2-1 lead.
Carey’s goal held up the rest of the way.
With less than a minute left, the Warriors pulled their netminder and mounted one final attack on goaltender Parker Milner.
With three seconds left, the puck landed on Jesse Todd’s stick in tight, but Milner got square to stop the puck and put the Warriors away.
“The game tonight had a real playoff feel to it with the intensity, physical play, and goaltending of both teams, and we knew it wasn’t going to be easy coming up here,” said BC coach Jerry York.
With BC’s victory, the Eagles improve to 21-10-1 overall, 15-7-1 in Hockey East and move into first place, while Merrimack drops to 15-9-6 overall and 11-8-4 in the conference.
Merrimack maintains fifth place, but with Maine’s loss, the Warriors are still only two points shy of the crucial fourth place for home-ice.
“There’s a lot of pride in these jerseys that didn’t exist when we got here and I thought our guys really battled hard tonight,” said Merrimack coach Mark Dennehy.
Merrimack had an early chance to take a quick lead when the Eagles found themselves short-handed early, and despite some good passing, the Warriors could not get a quality chance on Milner.
After a BC turnover, however, Todd charged forward on a two-on-one for a golden opportunity, but was denied by the crossbar.
BC took advantage of Merrimack’s misfortune, jumping ahead 1-0 at 10:44 of the first period when Chris Kreider found a wide-open Brian Dumoulin, who walked in and beat Cannata from the left dot.
Boston College was fortunate to go into the second period ahead 1-0 due to the efforts of Milner, who robbed Brandon Brodhag on a breakaway, and Mike Collins, who battled for the puck in the crease with Milner in desperation mode.
“You don’t win at this level unless your goaltender gives you a strong effort and tonight, he did a nice job,” said York.
Cannata also kept the deficit at only one goal, stopping Barry Almeida twice from in close.
For most of the second period, the Warriors overpowered the Eagles, fighting to tie the game, and outshot the Eagles 18-7.
“You’ve got to bring it every game,” said Dennehy. “All that is is a prerequisite and it doesn’t guarantee you anything but a chance.”
Milner kept finding ways to keep the Warriors scoreless, stopping the likes of Clayton Jardine and Connor Toomey.
Merrimack was finally rewarded at 8:56 when the Warriors had consistent offensive zone pressure. Ryan Flanigan zipped the puck cross-ice to Todd, who wristed a bullet past Milner’s glove to tie the game at 1-all.
Merrimack nearly took the lead when Brodhag sped past Dumoulin and Patrick Wey for a second breakaway chance, but Milner again denied him.
With the score tied at 1-1, tensions and physicality between both teams reached critical heights and the referees worked hard to minimize the amount of contact after the whistle.