BOSTON – Boston University took over sole possession of first place in Hockey East with a 4-2 win over Merrimack on Friday night. The Warriors (11-4-3, 7-3-1 HE) opened the scoring with a Josh Myers goal 4:31 in, but BU (11-6-1, 9-4-1 HE) responded with two goals in the next minute from Justin Courtnall and Alex Chiasson. Alexx Privitera made it 3-1 with a power-play tally later in the period, and Sahir Gill finished off the scoring with one of his own late in the second. Kieran Millan made 42 saves in the win.
What I saw
-After going 0-for-6 on the power play last Saturday against Notre Dame, BU went 2-for-4 Friday. The Terriers converted on each of their first two power plays thanks to some great puck movement. The first setup started when Adam Clendening fed Chris Connolly, who then found Chiasson with a great centering pass that Chiasson redirected past Joe Cannata (32 saves). The second came on a beautiful pass from below the goal line by Matt Nieto that found Privitera all alone at the back door for an easy tap-in. The blue-line pairing of Clendening and Privitera on the top unit looked particularly dangerous.
-The Terriers also improved on faceoffs, going 28-for-60 after winning just 19 of 59 in South Bend. No one was spectacular, but everyone was right around 50 percent, which is really all BU can reasonably expect after losing not just its top two centers, but also its top two faceoff men. Perhaps the most notable contributor was Chiasson, who, although listed as the top-line right wing, took the majority of faceoffs when his line was on the ice and wound up going 7-for-13.
What I thought
-Continuing the trend of “things got better,” Kieran Millan was also a lot better after giving up five to the Irish. Against Notre Dame, it looked he was fighting the puck and struggling to find it in traffic. He didn’t have to deal with as much traffic Friday night thanks to an improved defensive effort, but he looked calmer when he did. One of the goals did come on a shot through traffic, but he might’ve never seen it. The other goal came on a rebound after he made a good initial save. His biggest save of the night came in the second period while the game was 3-1, as he stuck out his right pad just in time to deny Jeff Velleca on a 2-on-1.
-Gill’s goal late in the second felt like karma. A few shifts earlier, he took an elbow to the head by Kyle Bigos that somehow warranted only a two-minute penalty. BU didn’t score on that power play, but Gill, who looked a little woozy after the hit but stayed in the game, scored on a rocket of a one-timer three minutes later to up BU’s lead to 4-2.
-Defenseman Max Nicastro had one of his best games of the season. He came into BU with plenty of hype as a third-round pick by Detroit in 2008, but has been inconsistent in his three seasons with the Terriers. He was solid at both ends of the ice Friday, though. He broke up several rushes, played physical and did a good job getting pucks up the ice quickly. He also earned an assist on Gill’s goal by making a nice pinch at the line and then putting a pass right in Gill’s wheelhouse.
What they said
“I thought we really needed to get a W to make us feel like, after losing a couple guys, that we’re OK, we got a good team still, we’re gonna be fine. I think when you beat Merrimack and get four goals against them, three in the first against them, you’re telling yourself, ‘We can be a pretty good hockey club.’ ” -BU coach Jack Parker, referring to the team needing a confidence boost after losing Corey Trivino and Charlie Coyle
What else you should know
-The victory snapped a four-game winless streak against Merrimack. BU has a lopsided 20-4-2 record against the Warriors since the start of the 2004-05 season, but entered Friday 0-2-2 in the teams’ last four meetings.
-Following Myers’ goal for Merrimack, 15 of the 38 goals BU has given up in conference play this season have been the first of that player’s collegiate career.
-The season series between BU and Merrimack is now tied 1-1. The rubber match will take place Feb. 3 in North Andover.