The Takeaway: Merrimack keeps home-ice hopes alive, ends UMass’ hopes with OT win

Posted by: Mike McMahon

NORTH ANDOVER — Considering how crazy the Hockey East race has been this season, we should have only expected these final few games to finish in an equal frenzy.

UMass, which needed at least a tie to keep its playoff hopes alive after Maine beat UNH, scored three goals in the last 4:01 — all three with its goaltender pulled — to force overtime. But Merrimack, which needed a win to keep its home-ice hopes alive, got an extra-session goal from Connor Toomey to beat the Minutemen, 4-3, at Lawler Arena on Friday night.

What I saw

- The Minutemen potted three extra-attacker goals in the final 4:01 of the third period. On a power play with more than five minutes to go, UMass head coach John Micheletto pulled his goaltender for the 6-on-4 advantage. The Minutemen cut Merrimack’s 2-0 lead in half before Mike Collins tacked on what looked like necessary insurance later in the period. But, UMass struck twice in the final two minutes, both again with goaltender Steve Mastalerz on the bench, to tie the score.

- Connor Toomey, who scored Merrimack’s overtime game-winner against Boston College three weeks ago, also potted the overtime winner on Friday for the Warriors. Toomey was setup after Merrimack junior Brendan Ellis fired a shot from the point that Mastalerz stopped with his pad but Toomey was waiting to pounce on the rebound.

What I thought

- The results certainly what UMass would have wanted, with the loss ending their playoff hopes, but the Minutemen have nothing to hang their heads about. Kudos to everyone on that bench for literally fighting until the very end. Three goals with the goaltender pulled in the final five minutes. What else can you say?

- The Warriors, who were struggling to score goals the last five games, broke through with four on Friday. Mike Collins found his way back on the scoring sheet for the Warriors. There’s no question that, for Merrimack to have success in the Hockey East playoffs, it needs to score. The Warriors did a better job getting bodies to the net and creating traffic, similar to how Lowell scored against the Warriors last weekend.

What they said

“It feels good to keep getting these overtime goals,” said Toomey, who also potted the game-winner against Boston College in overtime three weeks ago. “(Brendan) Ellis had the puck at the point and I just wanted to get to the net. He had a good shot off the pad and it fell right on my stick.”

Merrimack head coach Mark Dennehy on hits team getting bodies to the net:  “We were better than we were but I still think we were behind the next too much with our second and third guys. We still had opportunities to plant ourselves in front but I thought it was better for sure. We’ll continue to work on it because it needs to be better, that’s how you score goals.”

UMass head coach John Micheletto on the OT goal: “We need to play through the point and we didn’t. He got a shot off and then there’s a rebound and we didn’t have sticks or bodies there. Obviously you’re trying to minimize (the rebounds) from either the goaltending on the defensive-zone coverage. Not many first chances go in this league. … I told (the team) that we’d come out and win tomorrow. Play with some pride. We play 34 games, the playoffs are a bonus.”

What else you should know

Every Merrimack forward recorded at least one shot on goal. … UMass senior forward Eddie Olczyk appeared to injure his right shoulder in the first period and did not return. … Merrimack goalie Sam Marotta had 37 saves. … UMass center Branden Gracel took 39 of the game’s 89 faceoffs for the Minutemen.

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