Jacob Oshinsky/WRBB Sports

BOSTON — Behind a top to bottom effort for the opening round of conference playoffs Wednesday, seventh-seeded Northeastern blanked No. 10 Merrimack in a dominant 4-0 victory at Matthews Arena for the last home game of the 2023-2024 season.

The Huskies faced the Warriors three times in the regular season for a 2-1 record, sweeping the home-and-home series in January and dropping a game back in October during the stretch with an injury-hampered lineup. Across those games, forwards Alex Campbell, Cam Lund and Jack Williams tied with two goals each.

It goes without saying that scoring the first goal can be make or break in playoff hockey, and fortunately, NU did so just 3:15 into Wednesday’s matchup.

Off the faceoff, won by junior forward Justin Hryckowian — who ranks eighth nationally in FO won — senior forward Alex Campbell picked his spot from the middle of the dots and got under Merrimack’s 6′ 8″ goaltender Hugo Ollas. The iron stays hot for Campbell, as he picked up his team-leading 22nd goal and the fourth in two games, following his second hat trick on the year against Providence on Saturday.

“He’s a stud, I love playing with him,” said Hryckowian of his linemate. “He’s a really sneaky-skill type of player, I mean, so fast and slippery. I think he makes life really hard on the defenders.”

But the Huskies’ offensive pressure subsided when the Warriors received the first man-advantage almost nine minutes into the frame. In a stroke of luck, both of Merrimack’s SOG attempts hit the post and Northeastern killed the interference minor to maintain the 1-0 lead.

The power play was enough to give Merrimack’s bench some life as they continued getting pucks to the net more frequently than NU and received another five-on-four opportunity in the remaining minutes. However, the advantage was cut short when Merrimack senior forward Alex Jefferies took a holding penalty off a shorthanded chance by NU and the Huskies closed out the first on their own PP.

Although Merrimack led SOG 10-7 headed into first intermission, Northeastern’s chances were of better quality and capitalized on its’ second to tally on the scoreboard first.

Yet the power play didn’t rejuvenate Northeastern and the 25.9% successful squad netted zero shots, giving Merrimack an easy PK to open period two. After ten minutes, the Huskies tested Ollas for a total of zero times against one shot by the Warriors for a count of 1-0.

That being said, the Huskies controlled possession of the offensive zone nonetheless, so it was a matter of time for the puck to find the back of the net.

Generated off another swift shift from the first line, Northeastern’s second goal was scored by sophomore defenseman Vinny Borgesi at 11:16 with the help of Campbell and D. Hryckowian. After the younger Hryckowian entered the zone, Campbell sauced a stretch pass back to Borgesi on the blue line for a one-time rocket to give the Huskies a 2-0 lead.

Just over two minutes later came Merrimack’s best chance of the period, if not the game, with a hard shot on the doorstep by tied-leading goal scorer Jefferies — forcing Whitehead to make a huge glove save to keep the Warriors off the scoresheet.

“To me, that was a big difference in the game right there,” said head coach Jerry Keefe. “That goes in and all of a sudden [Merrimack] get[s] a lot of life.”

Meanwhile the Huskies momentum didn’t sway for the latter half of the middle frame and they quickly found the net again with the same effort from the top line.

After a few rebound attempts on Justin Hryckowian’s initial shot from the right side, graduate defenseman Pito Walton matched Borgesi for a fifth goal on the season at 16:28, assisted by the Hryckowians. Northeastern had now scored three unanswered goals — two of which from defenders — for a strong 3-0 lead.

“I thought our d[efense] did a pretty good job of picking their spots when they were going to shoot the puck,” said Keefe. “I thought our d[efensemen] just did a great job of being playmakers and keeping the puck alive.”

A hooking call on Merrimack followed by matching roughing minors put Northeastern on the man-advantage to close out the second period and start the third. The SOG tally reached 16-apiece after 40 minutes, backed by two power play opportunities for the Huskies in the middle frame.

Merrimack killed off NU’s remaining PP time to open period three, officially solidifying both teams’ 100% PK on the night. After ten minutes, the shot count was 6-1 in favor of Northeastern — ironically giving up one shot in the same span that it netted one shot itself in the second period.

With NU riding out its 3-0 lead nearing the end of regulation, Merrimack pulled Ollas fairly early at 15:36 looking for a late offensive spark.

Not even a minute later, the Hrykowian brothers skated toward the empty net and Justin unselfishly fed the puck to Dylan for the freshman’s seventh goal on the season, putting the nail in the coffin at 4-0.

“I thought in the third period, we played the game the right way with the lead. That was exactly what we talked about and credit to our guys,” Keefe said. “I thought everybody bought into it and that was one of our best periods of the year.”

With his third point of the game, Justin hit a team-leading 41TP. This is all the more impressive for Hockey East’s Best Defensive Forward in consecutive years considering he’s played 31 games this season.

On the other end of the ice, Whitehead secured his fourth shutout of the year with 22/22 saves. The freshman netminder has posted a .918 SV% and 2.58 GAA in 34 out of 35 starts.

“It’s really nice when the team plays like that in front of you. It makes my job a lot easier,” Whitehead said. “I can’t ask for much more.”

Jacob Oshinsky/WRBB Sports

This game was a prime example of the Huskies playing to their identity and being rewarded for it. While we haven’t seen frequent scoring from the top nine as a unit, the top line’s consistency has proven successful for Northeastern to come out of big games on the other side.

“That’s exactly what we want to do going into the next game: Building right off that third period,” Keefe said. “I thought we weren’t protecting the lead — we were just playing the game the way we need to play the game.”

The Huskies will take on No. 2 Boston University in the conference quarterfinals this Saturday. Northeastern holds a 2-1 record against the Terriers this year, with all three contests decided in 4-3 overtime — its most prominent being for the 71st Beanpot title. If the Huskies can settle into their game early and do the little things right, they can certainly upset BU for a third time this year.

“We should be going in there with confidence that if we play the right way, we’ll give ourselves a chance,” Keefe said.

The No. 7 Huskies will face the No. 2 Boston University Terriers in the Hockey East Quarterfinals Saturday in Agganis Arena at 4:15 p.m. WRBB 104.9 FM will have the call.