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Behind the strength of an eight-point night from its top forward line, the Maine Black Bears defeated the Merrimack College Warriors, 5-1, on Saturday at Lawler Rink. Gustav Nyquist led the attack with two goals and two assists. Brian Flynn added the game’s first and last goals, and Tanner House potted two assists in the victory.
Shawn Sirman earned his first win of the season in the first game he played all 60 minutes. Sirman made 24 saves, including three on good Merrimack scoring chances.
“We worked harder, so we earned more bounces (like Merrimack did yesterday),” Maine coach Tim Whitehead said. “Shawn stepped up on a couple of key breakaways and gave our team a lift.”
Whitehead said his team played well on the penalty kill, and they proved his belief. The Black Bears were perfect on the penalty kill and even tallied a short-handed goal.
“We weren’t willing to play the way we needed to to win,” Warriors’ coach Mark Dennehy said. “We didn’t want to fight for our ice.”
Maine limited Merrimack to seven shots in eight power plays. In their first five chances (all in the first period), the Warriors had one shot.
“The first period was key tonight,” Whitehead said.
In the first, Maine scored a pair of goals. At 16:40, Brian Flynn scored during a Merrimack power play. Stephane Da Costa came out of the penalty box just before the Black Bears’ rush. After forcing a turnover, Flynn made the Warriors pay. He lifted the puck up, and it saucered onto the ground, just past Joe Cannata’s extended right arm.
The Black Bears added to their lead just over a minute later when Nyquist recorded his second point of the night. A Merrimack penalty gave Maine the man advantage. After his team won the faceoff, Will O’Neill found Nyquist open in the opposite slot. His one-timer widened the deficit for Merrimack, who soon after had an answer.
Just before the last minute of the period, the Warriors broke the shutout. John Heffernan shot the puck from the near faceoff circle, got his own rebound, carried it around a bunch of Black Bears and Warriors just outside the slot, and shot after he reached the slot. That was the only mistake Sirman made all night.
The only goal of the second period came in its last minute. Nyquist notched his 17th goal of the season by faking Cannata (23 saves) out. The backhand wrister beat Cannata to the far side when Nyquist was in point blank range.
Robby Dee added an insurance goal for Maine in the third period when he received a pass from David DeKastrozza inside the near faceoff circle. Cannata was pulled, and Andrew Braithwaite (eight saves) came in to replace him.
Flynn grabbed his second goal of the night at the same time in the third (16:40) as he did in the first. He beat Braithwaite from right next to him to close the scoring.
Maine’s victory clinched them a playoff spot and brought them closer to the third seed in Hockey East with a 14-10-2 record. The Black Bears only need one point next weekend to guarantee home ice for the first round of the playoffs.
Maine closed its regular season road docket after Saturday’s game, and will have a pair at home against Massachusetts starting on Friday.
The loss dropped the Warriors to 11-13-1 in Hockey East. Pending Sunday’s Boston University-University of Vermont matchup, Merrimack will still be in the top eight of the division until Friday.
Merrimack has a home-and-home series with the Providence College Friars next weekend. The Warriors will head to Providence for Friday night’s game and be back at home to close out the regular season on Saturday.
The Warriors control their own playoff destiny. If they win their last two games, they will clinch at least the eighth seed.