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University of Maine sophomore right wing Gustav Nyquist saw an opening in the top left corner of the goal from the right point, but flung a wrist shot just wide of the far post early in Saturday’s Hockey East contest against the Merrimack College Warriors.
Given a second chance, Nyquist would not miss.
A rising shot by Nyquist over the shoulder of Merrimack senior goaltender Andrew Braithwaite found the back of the net with 17.2 seconds remaining in the third period to break a 2-2 tie and run No. 18 Maineâ€™s unbeaten streak to nine games.
“I just tried to keep my head up and saw that the left corner was open,” Nyquist said. “I tried to put it up there again.”
Maine sophomore defenseman Ryan Hegarty added an empty-net goal with 8.4 seconds left to seal the 4-2 win in front of 4,325 fans at Alfond Arena.
Nyquist’s team-leading 13th goal of the season came just as Merrimack defenseman Fraser Allan left the penalty box. The junior took a penalty with 2:17 left to negate a Warriors’ power play and gave the Black Bears an eventual man-advantage.
“That was just great poise with the puck,” Maine coach Tim Whitehead said of Nyquist’s ability to set himself before releasing the shot.
Maine improved to 11-7-2 (8-4-1 Hockey East) in the single-game weekend. Merrimack lost its fifth straight and eighth in nine games to fall to 7-11-0 (4-7-0 Hockey East).
Sophomore left wing Spencer Abbott contributed a goal and a pair of assists for the Black Bears, including the primary assist on Nyquist’s goal.
“Spencer had an unbelievable game,” Whitehead said. “He just seemed to really elevate his game tonight.”
After taking a 2-1 lead on Abbott’s goal that beat the first period horn, Maine saw its lead negated early in the third period and nearly fell behind, but Merrimack freshman center Stephane Da Costa’s potential go-ahead goal with 13:02 left was waived off when video replay revealed that Da Costa directed the puck into the net with his skate.
“That’s why we have video,” Whitehead said. “It takes all the pressure off the referees in those tight situations.”
Maine thrived on the momentum after the waived-off goal, and sophomore goaltender Scott Darling was up to the task, making 26 saves to improve to 11-3-2. Braithwaite turned aside 25 shots and fell to 4-3-0.
“I thought we handled it pretty well,” Merrimack coach Mark Dennehy said. “I thought we came back and played really hard and had some chances. Whenever you take a goal off the board, it’s going to affect the outcome.”
Merrimack gained a 1-0 advantage on their first power play, 2:58 into the game. Senior defenseman Justin Bonitatibus notched his sixth goal of the season on a re-directed wrister by Allan from the left point.
Maine junior center Robby Dee evened the score with an even-strength tally with 6:03 left in the first period. Abbott found Dee streaking through the right circle, where Dee beat Braithwaite with a far-side wrister for his eighth goal of the season and fifth in as many games.
Abbott gave the Black Bears their first lead eight seconds before the first intermission. He managed to bounce a tough-angle shot off Braithwaite’s back and into the goal as he circled behind the net.
After a scoreless second period, Merrimack junior left wing Chris Barton converted the equalizer 4:45 into the third with a wrister from the lower-right faceoff circle that beat Darling at the near post.
Merrimack converted twice on three power plays. Maine’s nation-leading power play was held scoreless in four opportunities.
“They did a great job blocking shots,” Nyquist said. “It was really hard to get shots through.”