NU's Joe Vitale scores with 2:44 remaining in third period

Joe Vitale scored the game-winner for Northeastern

BOSTON, Mass. - Joe Vitale scored the game-winning goal with under three minutes to go to lift Northeastern to a 4-3 victory over Merrimack on Friday night at Matthews Arena. After Merrimack's Chris Barton scored to give the Warriors a 3-2 lead, freshman J.P. Maley scored his first career goal to tie it up. Wade MacLeod had a goal and two assists and goaltender Brad Thiessen made 22 saves for the win.

Northeastern improved to 19-6-2 overall and 14-4-1 in Hockey East while Merrimack fell to 5-17-3 overall and 2-15-2 in Hockey East. The Huskies take on Boston University in the Beanpot final on Monday at 8 p.m.

Northeastern scored the first goal of the game in the ninth minute. Steve Quailer got the puck off a turnover along the right boards, faked a shot and passed it to MacLeod on the left side of the crease. Merrimack goalie Joe Cannata was at the top of the crease and MacLeod put it behind him from the left to make it 1-0 at 8:26 in the first period.

Merrimack tied it on a power play goal at 18:52 in the first. Defenseman Pat Bowen stopped a clear attempt and passed the puck to Fraser Allan in the high slot. Allan shot it through traffic to get the Warriors on the board.

Chris Donovan scored his second short-handed goal of the season early in the second period. Cannata went behind the net to play the puck and Donovan went in to cause a turnover. He came around the front, faked a shot and got the puck past Cannata to make it 2-1 at 1:59.

Thiessen made a great glove save on a wide-open, point-blank shot by Justin Bonitatibus at 11:37 in the second.

The Warriors wouldn't go away, however, and tied it up later in the second. John Jamieson took the puck into the zone, dropped it to J.C. Robitaille, and Robitaille fed Pat Kimball. Kimball shot the puck in as the three rushed the right side of the net to make it 2-2 at 14:50 in the second period.

Northeastern had some chances early in the third, but the Warriors collected the next goal at 9:52 on a power play to take the lead. Frasier Allen and Pat Bowen passed the puck between the points before Bowen shot it on net. Barton tipped it enough so Thiessen couldn't control the save, and Barton put in the rebound to make it 3-2 Warriors.

Maley put in the equalizer at 11:14 in the third. MacLeod passed it across the middle to Quailer on the left side and Quailer put a shot on net. Maley rushed the net and hit a bouncing shot up and over Cannata for the goal.

Vitale put in the game-winner on a rush late in the third. He got the puck out of a pile near the Northeastern blueline and passed it to MacLeod, who took it up the left side. Vitale streaked up the right, beat a Merrimack defender and MacLeod threaded a pass to him. Vitale put it in down low to make it a 4-3 final at 17:16.

Merrimack pulled Cannata for the final 1:38 but couldn't get the equalizer. Merrimack outshot Northeastern 25-24.

Northeastern is back in action Monday when it plays for the 57th Annual Beanpot title at the TD Banknorth Garden at 8 p.m. The Huskies take on Boston University in the championship game. It will be broadcast on 890 ESPN Boston and WRBB Radio and televised on NESN and Rogers Sportsnet.