NORTH ANDOVER, MA - Jeff Velleca (Waterbury, CT) tied a career-high with two goals and four points as #12/13 Merrimack scored three first-period goals in a 5-2 victory over #7 UMass Lowell in front of a sellout crowd of 2,489 at Lawler Arena Friday night.
Merrimack (16-9-6, 12-8-4 HEA) will conclude its season series at #7 UMass Lowell (20-10-0, 15-9-0) Saturday night at the Tsongas Center at 7 p.m. Tickets are still available, and the game will be broadcast live on 1400 AM locally and merrimackathletics.com. Merrimack has one home regular season game remaining, next Saturday against UMass.
The win, coupled with the Maine loss, moves the Warriors into a tie for fourth place with the Black Bears, but Merrimack has a game in hand and the tiebreaker. Merrimack can actually clinch home ice in the Hockey East Quarterfinals for the second straight season Saturday with a win and a Maine loss. The Warriors are two points behind Lowell for third and could tie the River Hawks on Saturday with a win.
Merrimack came out flying, scoring twice in the first 8:08 and three times in the period as Elliott Sheen (Lethbridge, AB) and Kyle Bigos (Upland, CA) each netted their first goal since the January 13-14 weekend against Maine.
Sheen capitalized on a Doug Carr turnover for his third of the year at 6:50. Rhett Bly (Regina, SK) forced a turnover behind the net in a battle with Carr, and Sheen was right there to knock it into the vacated net.
Just 1:18 later, a blast from Bigos beat Carr high for his fourth of the year and 10th career. Velleca started the play, beating out the icing, and the puck went to Jesse Todd (Calgary, AB) in the corner, who fed Bigos across the ice for the goal.
Outshooting Lowell 13-3 in the first, Velleca concluded the scoring on the power play at 17:52, redirecting a Karl Stollery (Camrose, AB) shot for his eighth of the year with Connor Toomey (Billerica, MA) also getting a helper.
Velleca's goal gave Merrimack its first three-goal first period since November 23, 2011 against Huntsville back when it was the top-ranked team in the country.
The Warriors outshot Lowell 13-8 in a scoreless second period, with Hobey Baker nominee Joe Cannata (Wakefield, MA) coming up big on a point-blank backhand shot on Matt Ferreira with 3:29 left in the period.
Ryan Flanigan (Rochester, NY) sealed it just 22 seconds into the third, putting a rebound past Carr for his ninth of the year, ending the night for Lowell's netminder. Todd fed Velleca, whose shot was stopped by Carr, but Flanigan was there to backhand it home.
Lowell did end Cannata's shutout bid as a slapper from Chad Ruhwedel on the power play got the visitors on the board at 6:31 of the third.
But 1:15 later, Velleca notched his second of the game, as he stole a puck from a Lowell defender and beat Marc Boulanger for the unassisted tally at 7:46, pushing the lead back to four goals before Matt Ferreira added a late marker for the visitors.
The senior line of Flanigan, Todd, and Velleca led the way with three goals and seven points, as Velleca matched his career high of two goals and four points set on December 7 against Vermont. Todd now has 96 career points and is four shy of becoming the second Merrimack player in 11 years to reach 100 career points (Chris Barton).
Merrimack moved to 11-3-3 when outshooting its opponent and 14-2-1 when scoring a power play goal. The Warriors also improved to 16-2-3 when scoring two or more goals and are 5-0 since January 1 when they score more than twice.
Merrimack's power play finished 1-for-3 in the victory, while Lowell went 1-for-4.
Cannata finished with 17 saves, earning his 57th career win, while Carr made 24 saves before being pulled early in the third.