Hockey East: UNH beats Merrimack, forces game three

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A lead can do a lot to help a team’s confidence.

A night after New Hampshire couldn’t buy a goal and watched one thing go wrong after another, losing 4-0 to Merrimack in the opening game of the best-of-three opening round series, the Wildcats struck twice in the middle period and survived to see another day, posting a 4-0 victory of their own on Saturday night at Lawler Rink.

The two teams faceoff in a winner-take-all game three on Sunday to advance to the Hockey East quarterfinals.

UNH, surviving early pressure from the Warriors, used some puck luck — a lost offensive-zone draw that bounced off a Merrimack defender and directly to rookie sniper Patrick Grasso — to open the scoring at 14:43 of the middle period and inject confidence into the Wildcats team.

“It was going to be important to score [the first] goal,” said UNH coach Dick Umile. “We needed it for confidence. This game gave us a lot of confidence. It’s like a transfusion for us. We needed blood; we needed to enjoy a win. We needed to know we did it through a lot of hard work and compete.

“The guys did that tonight.”

Leading 1-0, the UNH power play, scoreless in five attempts on Friday, broke through. Brendan van Riemsdyk’s second attempt at a centering feed found Jason Salvaggio, who roofed a shot high over Colin Delia at 17:34 of the second.

That two-goal cushion helped the Wildcats weather the storm through the third, when Merrimack threw everything and the kitchen sink at UNH’s Danny Tirone, who finished with a career-high 44 saves. The junior netminder earned his third shutout of the season and stopped all 17 shots he faced in the final frame, staying composed when scrambles broke out in front.

“To put it in perspective, last night when you’re down 2-0, it might be a little bit more nerve-wracking because you don’t want to fall further behind,” said Tirone. “Tonight, you take being up 2-0 any time. They did get scrambly and I thought we did a good job of weathering the storm when they got like that.”

Though two empty-net goals late in the game accounted for a 4-0 final, Merrimack coach Mark Dennehy said he didn’t mind the way his team played on Saturday and, despite the result, actually preferred Saturday’s effort to Friday.

“The second half of the game, we played a lot like how we have to play,” said Dennehy. “It might have taken us too long to get there.

“But we had 83 shot attempts. <i>Eighty-three shot attempts</i>. They got some looks out of it and we’ll have look at it and make adjustments. But we need to play the way we played the second half of the game the whole game.”

Hockey East roundup

No. 8 Northeastern 6, No. 9 Connecticut 2
Northeastern scored three times during a five-minute major power play midway through the third period to break open a one-goal game in a 6-2 victory over Connecticut to sweep the opening round series. John Stevens scored twice in less than two minutes and Jeremy Davies added a third goal shortly thereafter on the major power play to break open the game. Brendan Collier and Zach Aston-Reese spotted Northeastern the lead through the halfway point in the game, but UConn stayed step for step and trailed 3-2 heading into the final period before Northeastern’s power play explosion. Ryan Ruck stopped 32 UConn shots to finish the sweep. Northeastern awaits the outcome of the UNH-Merrimack series to determine its quarterfinal opponent.

No. 6 Vermont 5, No. 11 Maine 1
Brendan Bradley and Rob Hamilton each scored in the first period to spot the host Catamounts to a 2-0 lead. After Maine’s Rob Michel tallied early in the second, Vermont’s Mario Puskarich and Craig Puffer buried goals 12 seconds apart to seal the fate for the Black Bears and earn the Catamounts the sweep. Vermont will face Boston College in the league quarterfinals beginning next Friday in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts.

No. 5 Providence 5, No. 12 Massachusetts 1
Providence goaltender Hayden Hawkey allowed just a single goal on the weekend as the Friars skated to a 5-1 victory over Massachusetts to sweep the best-of-three series. Scott Conway’s 12th goal of the year on a power play at 8:54 of the first gave Providence a lead early. Vimal Sukumaran and Conor McPhee added second-period goals to expand the lead in the second. Defenseman Josh Monk, who scored in the closing minutes, finished with a game-high three points. The Friars will travel to South Bend, Indiana, and face Notre Dame next weekend in the quarterfinals.

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