NORTH ANDOVER, MA - Andrew Braithwaite (Kingston, Ontario) stopped 35 shots and Rob Ricci (Brampton, Ontario) scored on a two-man advantage in the first period, but Mike Sislo tied the game at 4:35 into the third period, forcing the Warriors to settle for a 1-1 tie with #2 UNH Saturday night in front of a sellout crowd at Lawler Arena.
Merrimack’s tie, coupled with wins by UMass and Maine, means the Warriors must sweep UMass next weekend, and Maine can pick up no more than two points in its two-game set with UMass Lowell, for the Warriors to make the Hockey East playoffs.
The Warriors (12-16-4, 6-16-3 HEA) will travel to the Mullins Center Friday night at 7 p.m. to face the Minutemen, with the return matchup set for Saturday night at Lawler Arena. Earlier this season, Merrimack lost to UMass 5-1 in Springfield.
Ricci’s goal, his 12th of the season at 13:56 of the first, came during the midst of an extended five-on-three advantage. With the first penalty winding down, Joe Cucci (Melrose Park, IL) made a great play to keep the puck in the zone at the blue line. He then fed J.C. Robitaille (Des Ruisseaux, Quebec) down low who fed it across the ice to Ricci, who fired it past a diving Brian Foster. The Warriors took no penalties in the first period and out shot UNH 19-9.
The Wildcats (22-7-3, 18-4-3 HEA), as they did last night, picked up the intensity in the third, getting four power plays and out shooting Merrimack 14-to-6. Just three minutes into the third, Braithwaite made his best stop of the game, as he stoned Bobby Butler, who was all alone in front, with a nifty glove save.
Sislo scored just one minute after Braithwaite’s big save, as Thomas Fortney cleanly won the face-off right to Sislo who snuck a shot past the netminder for his third of the season. With their backs at the brink of elimination, the Warriors successfully killed four straight third-period penalties, including an extended 4-on-3 with 3:30 remaining in regulation.
The teams traded scoring chances in overtime, with UNH getting five shots to Merrimack’s two. The best chance came with 1:33 remaining, as Ricci cleanly won the offensive zone draw right to Joe Loprieno (Bloomingdale, IL) who slapped one that Foster just got a piece of between his blocker and chest protector and barely held for a whistle.
By scoring the first goal tonight and leading for more than 31 minutes, the Warriors became the first team to have a lead on UNH since Boston University on January 26th, eight games ago.
Foster, making his first start since January 6th, stopped 34 shots.