BOSTON — Merrimack broke open a 2-1 game with two third-period, power-play goals to defeat 15th-ranked Northeastern in its own barn, 5-2.
Kyle Bigos scored the first on a five-on-three that arose out of a five-minute major. After Northeastern countered with considerable pressure, Brendan Ellis provided the nail-in-the-coffin second at 10:15.
Jordan Heywood had scored twice in the first period to stake the Warriors to their lead and Dan Kolomatis buried an empty-netter in the closing minutes.
All five Warrior goals came from defensemen. When asked to comment on that curiosity, Merrimack coach Mark Dennehy deadpanned, “Coaching.”
After the laughter died down, he added in a more serious vein, “If you’re going to score goals the way the game is played now — as defensive as it is — your defensemen have to get in on the rush.
“I love defensemen who want the puck. We talk about it a lot. We work on it a lot. It’s definitely part of what we do.”
Merrimack (3-3-1, 2-1-1 HEA) now enjoys a modest three-game unbeaten streak. At one point, however, it appeared the Warriors might not capitalize on Northeastern’s penalties and leave open the door for a comeback. The Warriors opened the third period with a 1:23 five-on-three and needed all but the final second of it before the Bigos goal, which went through a Justin Hussar screen in front.
After Northeastern killed off the remaining three minutes of Braden Pimm’s five-minute major for hitting from behind and then swarmed the net, the two-goal lead was in doubt. A critical Cody Ferriero cross-checking, however, put Merrimack back on the power play and Ellis delivered.
“It can be deflating when you have a five-on-three if you don’t get anything out of it or if they kill a five-minute penalty,” Dennehy said. “Teams defend so well these days, it’s difficult to score even when you’re up a man.
“We talked about it going into the third period, that we needed to execute. And that’s what we did. I thought our guys on the power play did a really good job of that.”
With the loss, Northeastern (2-3-1) drops below .500 and has now gone four games without a win, its last victory coming over top-ranked Boston College. The Huskies will look to bounce back on Saturday and win the rubber game of the season series with Merrimack.
“Hopefully we can box this [game] and leave it here in the garbage and start again tomorrow,” NU coach Jim Madigan said. “We’ve got to play smarter. You can’t put teams on the power play in this league and you can’t give them five-on-threes for almost two minutes and try to kill off a five-minute major. You just can’t do it.
“You’ve got play smart and we didn’t play smart. We’ve got to play with a lot more discipline tomorrow and with a lot more intelligence.”
Northeastern enjoyed some terrific chances in the first period, but found itself trailing 2-1.
Heywood gave Merrimack its first lead, converting a one-timer from Connor Toomey at 8:44. Acting as a trailer, Heywood beat goaltender Bryan Mountain short side.
Husky freshman Kevin Roy almost evened it with a partial breakaway with 4:00 left. Effectively harassed by Tom McCarthy, Roy deked goaltender Sean Marotta but shot wide.
Soon after, Roy and Vinny Saponari broke two-on-one while shorthanded and Saponari fed the rookie right-to-left but Roy missed the net by inches.
Northeastern couldn’t manage the equalizer until two Merrimack penalties gave the Huskies a four-on-three power play. Given that advantage, Ludwig Karlsson made it 1-1, taking a feed from Colton Saucerman and slapping a one-timer from the right faceoff circle.
At 19:21, Mountain gave up a soft goal, letting Heywood’s wrister from the right point trickle through. The Warriors would never surrender the lead.
After the Bigos and Ellis power-play goals made it 4-1, Roy brought the Huskies back to within two, roofing the puck over Marotta, but they would get no closer.