By: Josh Brown
For the first time since 2008-2009 there was playoff college hockey at Matthews Arena Friday night.
Unfortunately for the Northeastern faithful, it was a less than ideal outcome, with Merrimack surviving eight penalties to outlast the Huskies 3-2 in overtime to take a 1-0 series lead in the best-of-three.
“They’re a tough team to play against,” said Northeastern coach Jim Madigan. “Very good goaltending, they pack it in really tight at the net, and they mug you and it’s tough to get any open space around their net.”
With the sixth seeded Huskies (16-15-4) on the power play in overtime, Merrimack(15-16-4) fourth liner Kyle Singleton took a pass off a loose puck via a Matt Benning shot, raced down ice and beat goalie Clay Witt to give the Warriors the series edge.
“Gutsy performance by our guys,” said Merrimack coach Mark Dennehy. “Obviously having to kill 10 penalty minutes in the first period put us a little behind the eight-ball.”
“It’s what makes this job great, because you never have the same day twice.”
Merrimack net-minder Rasmus Tirronen stepped up to the test, stopping 36 of the 38 shots he faced en route to the victory.
“Begins and ends with your goalie, and Ras(mus) stood up to the test,” Dennehy added.
Just 58 seconds into the game Hampus Gustafsson was ejected for hitting from behind, giving the Huskies a 5-minute power play.
Merrimack would take two more penalties in the first eight minutes of the game, but the first ranked penalty kill in Hockey East (89.2%) killed off each one, much due to the aid of Tirronen between the pipes.
“As we were moving it around we just couldn’t cleanly get it on a stick,” said Madigan. “When we got a scoring opportunity we either shot it wide or bobbled it last second.”
“We got to get more traffic in front of their goalie,” he added.
After eventually killing off the Huskies power plays, and getting on the man-advantage themselves courtesy of a Dax Lauwers cross-checking minor, Justin Hussar was able to score the first goal of the game, and give the Warriors a 1-0 lead.
The junior took a pass from defenseman Marc Biega and quickly shot a wrist shot by Witt to draw first blood.
John Stevens had the best opportunity of the second period for Northeastern, attempting to sneak a wrap-around past Tirronen who was hugging the post and sticked the puck away.
With just 1:50 left to go in the middle frame, freshman Jace Henning scored his 11th collegiate goal to open up a two goal cushion for Dennehy’s team.
Sophomore defenseman Jonathan Lashyn took a shot from the blue line that trickled off Hennings stick and into the back of the net.
Northeastern would not go quietly, scoring two in the opening ten minutes of the period to tie the game at two.
Zach Aston-Reese scored the first of the period for the Huntington Hounds, bringing Merrimack’s lead to within one.
Skating four-on-four, Aston-Reese found a puck in the defensive zone, raced up ice along the right side and launched a missile over the blocker side of Tirronen for his 12th of the season.
Just over five minutes later, junior Mike McMurtry netted the equalizer, sending the Doghouse into a frenzy.
On the power play thanks to a Quinn Gould interference call, Kevin Roy put an off-angle shot on net from just inside the right half wall. McMurtry, who was initially trying to screen Tirronen, poked away at the loose puck in front of the net and jammed it home.
“I like the way we came back and got two goals,” Madigan said. “I thought we stuck to our game plan pretty well.”
From there on out the remainder of the third became a track meet, filled with odd man rushes down ice, and huge saves by both Tirronen and Witt.
In the end it was both goalies standing strong, sending the game into sudden death.
It did not look good for the Warriors early in overtime when John Gustafsson went off for tripping just 1:07 into the extra frame.
Huskies defenseman Matt Benning launched a shot from the blue line that hit the crossbar and rattled out. From there Justin Mansfield fired a pass over to Singleton who dashed up the right side and put the nail in the coffin for the Huskies.
“I was thinking pass originally to ‘Jards’ (Clayton Jardine),” Singleton said, “but that d-man went to one knee. I pump faked a little and went shortside.”
“It felt good that’s for sure.”
The two teams will meet again Saturday at 4:00 for game two of the series.
“What I like most about it was we weren’t out of it mentally,” Dennehy said. “No matter what happened we were upbeat on the bench and believed we were going to make it happen.”
This article can also be found on USCHO….Follow Josh Brown on Twitter @josh_brown31