ORONO, ME – #14 Merrimack saw its season likely come to an end Sunday, falling to #10 Maine 2-1 in the decisive game three of the Hockey East Quarterfinals at Alfond Arena.
With the extra attacker on in the final minute, Jesse Todd's (Calgary, AB) wrister from in between the circles was stopped by the blocker of Dan Sullivan. Merrimack poured the pressure on, but failed to get another shot on net, as the Black Bears prevailed with the victory and the quarterfinal series.
Maine (22-12-3) will face Boston University in the Hockey East Semifinals next Friday. Merrimack's (18-12-7) season likely comes to an end, barring significant changes in the Pairwise rankings over the next week. Merrimack's best chance to get is for Maine to beat BU in the semifinals, coupled with Cornell and Western Michigan each losing in their semifinals and the consolation game.
The selection show is next Sunday.
After back and forth in action in the first nine minutes, Maine received a two-man advantage for 51-seconds and broke through first as Spencer Abbott blasted a one-timer over the blocker of Joe Cannata (Wakefield, MA) for his 20th of the season at 11:38.
Cannata made 12 first period saves as Maine outshot Merrimack 13-8, but the senior kept it a one-goal game, highlighted by a diving stop on Mark Anthoine across his crease at 4:13.
The Black Bears made it 2-0 at 3:43 of the second as Brice O'Connor buried a rebound off a Nick Pryor shot during a Maine 3-on-2 rush for his third of the year.
But Merrimack answered back as Ryan Flanigan (Rochester, NY) got the visitors on the board at 9:16 as he took a feed from Todd and redirected it past Sullivan for his 11th of the season. Last year's leading scorer among all Hockey East skaters in the playoffs, this was Flanigan's first point of these playoffs and 13th of his postseason career. Todd notched his 98th career point while Jordan Heywood (Regina, SK) earned his second assist in as many games.
Moments later, Mike Collins (Boston, MA) had a terrific wraparound attempt denied before Anthoine thought he had a goal, but video review ruled the puck was kicked in.
Merrimack managed just six shots in the final period, with Connor Toomey (Billerica, MA) getting one of the better chances after dribbling through the defense, but Sullivan made a left pad stop on the freshman. The Warriors killed two third period power plays, including one with 3:33 left.
Cannata allowed just two goals in each game this weekend, finishing with 30 saves Sunday as Maine outshot the Warriors 32-21.
Merrimack's penalty kill was excellent for the third straight night against the second-best power play in the country, allowing just one goal on a two-man advantage, while killing the other five Black Bears man advantages. The Warriors had just one power play, going for 0-for-1.
For the third straight night, over 10% (200 students) of Merrimack's student body were in attendance as four Merrimack fan buses invaded Orono over the weekend.
Sunday's game was likely the final game for the eight Merrimack seniors, who will graduate as the program's all-time Division I leader in wins and winning percentage. Cannata graduates as the program's all-time leader in wins, minutes, goals-against, saves and save percentage, while Karl Stollery (Camrose, AB) broke the program's all-time record for games played tonight with 145.
After starting the year 9-0-1 and earning the first-ever #1 national ranking in school history, Merrimack finished the year 9-12-6, failing to win two in a row on the same weekend since late October. The Warriors were ranked nationally every week this season for the first time ever and were in the top-10 for 17 straight weeks.