NORTH ANDOVER, Mass. — Boston University beat Merrimack 4-1 Friday night to take the season series from the Warriors (14-6-5, 10-5-3 HE). The Terriers (16-8-1, 13-6-1 HE) opened the scoring just 1:29 into the first when Chris Connolly beat Joe Cannata (16 saves) with a wrist shot from the right circle. BU increased the lead to 3-0 when Sahir Gill and Alex Chiasson scored less than a minute apart late in the second. Connolly added his second of the game 14:29 into the third before Mike Collins snapped Kieran Millan’s (28 saves) shutout bid with 1:42 left in the game.
What I saw
-BU’s new top line dominated. Chris Connolly and Alex Chiasson have been playing together for a while, but this week Terrier coach Jack Parker opted to move Matt Nieto up to that line in place of Wade Megan. The swap paid off big time, as that trio combined for three of BU’s four goals. After the game, Merrimack coach Mark Dennehy said that line gave his team “fits” and acknowledged that BU’s top players were the best players on the ice Friday night.
-After getting outplayed for most of the first, the Warriors got off to a much better start in the second in terms of puck possession. Unfortunately for them, they struggled to generate quality scoring chances and failed to beat an on-point Millan. Their inability to do anything when they were in control wound up costing them, as BU scored two goals in less than a minute later in the period to put Merrimack in a 3-0 hole it couldn’t overcome.
What I thought
-Missing two regular defensemen, BU’s back line stepped up big time. Alexx Privitera is expected to miss four weeks after breaking his wrist last weekend, and Max Nicastro is week-to-week with a shoulder injury. Garrett Noonan and Adam Clendening, who have been BU’s two best defensemen all season, both had very good games, but Sean Escobedo, Patrick MacGregor and Ryan Ruikka deserve just as much praise. All three of them saw their ice time increase as BU rolled with five defensemen all game, and all three were up to the challenge. The Terriers allowed 29 shots on goal, but they only gave up eight grade-A chances.
-Cannata had a rare off night. Connolly’s goal was a wrist shot from the right circle that simply beat him glove side, and Chiasson’s goal was a quick snap shot from the top of the right circle that slid through his five-hole as he was moving across the crease. Cannata has only had a couple off games all season, and he’s been outstanding a lot more often than not, so no one should be too concerned by Friday’s performance. Still, it did prove that he’s actually human.
What they said
-BU coach Jack Parker: “I was really happy with how we played tonight. We were very, very thorough in all three zones. In this rink, things happen fast, and we were very, very alert to that. I thought we got great goaltending. When you get four goals on Cannata, you had a real good night. That was a real good effort for us, in every phase.”
Parker pretty much nailed it in his opening statement. BU played a complete game and Merrimack didn’t.
-Merrimack coach Mark Dennehy: “We got rattled. I think a team with a long tradition of winning big hockey games came in here ready to win a big hockey game. And I think you saw a home team that was kind of unsure, wasn’t quite sure they belonged, and played to it.”
That’s some interesting insight from Dennehy because his Merrimack teams have rarely looked rattled against anyone. The Warriors certainly haven’t been playing great over the last two months — they’re 5-6-4 since the start of December — but to hear that the pressure of being high in the standings and high in the PairWise might have finally gotten to them was unexpected, at least to me. The Warriors will have to settle their nerves and get back to playing their grinding style if they hope to make a run at the league championship.
What else you should know
-Merrimack’s Josh Myers and Rhett Bly both left the game in the first period, but later returned. Myers appeared to injure his right arm in a collision and went straight to the locker room after leaving the ice, but he was back on the bench for the second period. Bly limped off the ice after blocking an Escobedo one-timer, but he only missed a couple shifts.
-With the win, BU now has a two-point lead over Boston College for first in the conference standings. Meanwhile, Merrimack got leapfrogged by Massachusetts-Lowell and dropped to fifth, four points behind BU.
-As of 10:30 p.m. ET, BU was second in the PairWise, while Merrimack was tied with Maine for eighth.
-Parker said he wasn’t sure if Nicastro would be ready to go for the opening round of the Beanpot on Monday night.
-While the Terriers are off until Monday night, the Warriors are right back at it Saturday night when they travel to UMass.