BOSTON, Mass. - No. 4 Northeastern topped Merrimack, 2-1, behind goals from Steve Quailer and Ryan Ginand on Friday night at Matthews Arena in the first game of a home-and-home series. NU got a 31-save performance from goaltender Brad Thiessen in the hard-fought contest.
Northeastern improved to 13-4-2 overall and 9-2-1 in Hockey East with the victory while Merrimack dropped to 5-10-3 overall and 2-8-2 in Hockey East. The Huskies remained atop the Hockey East standings by four points with the victory.
Quailer was awarded a penalty shot at 5:24 in the second period when Merrimack defenseman Fraser Allen got a penalty for delay of game after covering up the puck. Quailer went straight up the slot, dragged to the right and shot the puck past Merrimack goaltender Joe Cannata's left skate for the score to put the Huskies up 1-0. It was Northeastern's first attempted penalty shot since Tyler McNeely took one against Massachusetts on Feb. 16, 2008. It was NU's first successful penalty shot in several years.
Northeastern outshot Merrimack, 10-7, in the second period but Quailer's was the only goal of the frame.
Merrimack tied the game on a five-on-three goal in the third period. Wade MacLeod was called for tripping at 3:44 and Louis Liotti was called for hitting from behind at 4:00, setting up 1:46 of two-man advantage for the Warriors. It didn't take long for Merrimack to capitalize, as Joe Cucci potted the rebound of a Karl Stollery shot at 4:15. Merrimack generated 11 shots on four power plays in the game.
Ginand scored the game-winner just over seven minutes later for the Huskies. Cannata came out of the net to play the puck along the boards and NU's Chris Donovan charged into the zone, forcing an errant pass. Greg Costa grabbed the puck along the boards and passed it into the slot, where it deflected to Ginand. Ginand shot the puck through traffic and into the open net at 11:26 before Cannata could get back. It was Ginand's third game-winning goal of the season.
Merrimack fought hard in the closing minutes and outshot NU, 14-6, in the third period, but couldn't get another goal on the board. The Warriors pulled Cannata for 50 seconds in the closing minutes before Cucci took a penalty for tripping at 19:47.
The first period went scoreless with each team getting some good scoring chances. Northeastern senior Dennis McCauley was whistled for hitting from behind at 2:31 in the first, setting up a power play in which Merrimack got four shots on goal but couldn't bury it. NU had four shots on net in the first period and had a power play when Merrimack's Francois Ouimet was called for tripping at 9:07 but the Huskies couldn't get on the board. Thiessen made a great glove save on a short-handed breakaway by Merrimack's Jesse Todd at 9:52.
Thiessen improved his numbers to 13-4-2 with a 1.93 goals against average and a .938 save percentage.
The Huskies and Warriors rematch on Saturday at 7 p.m. at Lawler Arena in North Andover. The game will be broadcast on 890 ESPN Boston.