The Takeaway: Maine takes the series lead on Merrimack in Orono

Posted by: Mike McMahon

ORONO — Merrimack goaltender Joe Cannata made a season high 41 saves but it wasn’t enough for the Warriors, which fell to Maine 2-1 in Game 1 of a best-of-three Hockey East quarterfinal series at Alfond Arena on Friday night. Joey Diamond and Kyle Beattie tallied goals for the Black Bears after Mike Collins gave the Warriors a 1-0 lead on a power-play goal in the first period

What I Saw

A typical scene in Orono, with the Black Bears facing some early adversity and a a lift from their hometown crowd results in two quick goals to turn the tide. The only reason this wasn’t a 6-1 Maine win was the play of Merrimack netminder Joe Cannata, who was immense early in the game and made 17 saves in the second period. Cannata needs just 26 saves to break Merrimack’s program record for career saves.

Maine’s power play, while not scoring in there attempts, was immense, keeping the puck pinned in the offensive zone and turning momentum the Black Bears’ way. Blocks were key for the Warriors — I counted seven on the PK — but Maine still put eight shots on net and used the time as a momentum shift.

Merrimack struggled mightily in the second period to apply any pressure on Maine goaltender Dan Sullivan. The Warriors best flurries game with under 10 minutes left in the third period, but it was too little, too late.

What I thought

Merrimack head coach Mark Dennehy, and the slew of players who spoke with the media after the game, were obviously frustrated with the effort. Both the Warriors and Black Bears seemed sluggish to start, with the Warriors taking a 1-0 lead into the first intermission after Jon Swavely delivered a vicious elbow to Shawn Bates’ head, giving Merrimack a 5-minute power play where Collins netted his 10th of the year. The next 20 minutes were all Maine. At times, the Warriors weren’t just a step behind, they were feet behind, as Maine was lightning quick in transition, creating odd-man rush after 0dd-man rush.

Swavely’s elbow on Bates was among the worst hits I’ve seen all year. Under Brendan Shanahan, Swively would definitely be sitting out a few games. Maine’s penalty kill was immense on the major, despite allowing the goal, and killed off four other Merrimack power plays.

Spencer Abbott might lead the nation in scoring, and no offense to the senior winger, but Brian Flynn is Maine’s best player. He’s a top-notch playmaker and make some big plays on the backcheck when the Warriors were mustering some offense in the third period.

What they said

“It’s the playoffs, you have to play a level above. We had some guys doing it and some guys not doing it. We need a full effort (tonight).” – Merrimack goaltender Joe Cannata.

“Their best players were their best players (last night) and I didn’t think that our best players were our best players. With the exception of Cannata and (Karl) Stollery, our best players didn’t play their best.” – Merrimack head coach Mark Dennehy.

“It’s the playoffs and you have to play both sides of the puck. I thought we played very well tonight.” – Maine forward Spencer Abbott.

“I made a head fake to extend him a little and then I put it upstairs.” – Maine’s Joey Diamond on his breakaway goal.

What else you should now

Game 2 is Saturday night, with the game broadcast in New England on WBIN.

Merrimack had roughly 150-200 students make the trip to Orono. For just $20 (the rest of the expense covered by the athletic department), students received buses to and from the game and Orono, two nights hotel and tickets to all three games, if necessary.

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