ORONO, Maine — By his standards, University of Maine sophomore right winger Gustav Nyquist was having a quiet game against Merrimack College as the waning seconds of the game ticked down Saturday night.
His nine-game, point-scoring streak, in which he had amassed seven goals and 10 assists, was in jeopardy and he had been held to just two shots on goal.
But his third shot on goal proved to be decisive.
Nyquist scored with 17.2 seconds remaining to snap a 2-2 tie and supply the Black Bears with a hard-fought 4-2 men’s hockey victory over the much-improved Warriors.
The Bears were also the recipients of some good fortune when a potential go-ahead goal by Warrior freshman phenom Stephane Da Costa 6:28 into the third period was waved off because, after a lengthy video review, it was ruled that he kicked the puck into the net with his skate.
Maine (11-7-2 overall, 8-4-1 in Hockey East) extended its unbeaten streak to nine games (7-0-2). That represents the longest current unbeaten streak in the country.
Merrimack lost for the fifth straight time and fell to 7-11 and 4-7, respectively. Merrimack is winless in its last 20 visits to Alfond Arena (0-18-2).
“Good teams find a way to win and I think we did that today,” said Nyquist. “They’re obviously a great team, but we showed a lot of people today that we’re a good team and we’re going to have a fun second half here.”
Nyquist scored as a Maine power play was ending.
Tanner House got the puck to Spencer Abbott in the high slot, and Abbott skated from right to left to the middle of the slot before backhanding a pass back to the unattended Nyquist at the top of the circle.
“[Abbott] dragged a guy into the middle and threw it back to me. I just walked in, saw the left corner was open and, luckily, I was able to put it there,” said Nyquist, who beat standout Merrimack goalie Andrew Braithwaite with a wrist shot over his blocker to the far corner.
Merrimack defenseman Karl Stollery had dropped down on one knee to try to block the shot and served as a screen.
“There was a little bit of a screen. I lost sight of it as he was shooting it. I saw it once it got past [Stollery], but a split second can make all the difference and [Nyquist] made a good shot,” said Braithwaite, who made 25 saves, including 12 off Grade-A (high-percentage) shots. “But it was the last 17 seconds and I have to come up with [the save]. I’d like to have it back.”
“That’s ‘Captain Clutch,’” said Maine sophomore goalie Scott Darling, referring to Nyquist. “That was an unbelievable goal.”
Ryan Hegarty added an empty-net goal from his own blue line with eight seconds left.
Darling finished with 26 saves and has now given up two goals or less in seven of his last eight games.
Ten of his saves were off Grade-A shots, including a Jeff Velleca breakaway with 3:47 remaining.
Maine defenseman Jeff Dimmen picked up a hooking penalty on the play.
“He was hooking me pretty good and I didn’t get much on it, but [Darling] made a good save,” said Velleca.
“I knew [Velleca] wasn’t going to be able to go around me [because of Dimmen]. He tried to go five-hole, but I read it and got my pads down,” said Darling.
With 30 seconds left on the power play, Merrimack’s Fraser Allan was assessed a holding penalty and it ended just as Nyquist scored.
Justin Bonitatibus staked Merrimack with a 1-0 lead 2:58 into the game. He got the shaft of his stick on Allan’s shot from the left point and it deflected over Darling’s glove-side shoulder. It was a power-play goal.
Robby Dee tied it 10:59 later when he took a pass from Abbott in the middle on a three-on-two, took a stride and snapped a 22-foot wrister over Braithwaite’s blocker.
Abbott broke the tie with eight seconds left in the period.
After being tied up by a Warrior defenseman on a one-on-one down the left side, he followed the puck behind the net and his centering pass banked in off Braithwaite’s back.
After a scoreless second period, Chris Barton tied it on the power play by weaving into the Maine zone and firing a wrister from a tight angle to Darling’s left into the short-side corner over Darling’s glove.
Just 1:43 later, Da Costa beat a Maine defenseman wide down the left wing and cut in on Darling. Darling pokehecked the puck, but it hit Da Costa’s skate and went in the net.
Da Costa and Merrimack coach Mark Dennehy felt the goal should have been allowed.
“[Darling] pokechecked the puck. I couldn’t see it, but I guess it hit me and it went in the net. That was a bad break,” said Da Costa.
“[Da Costa] kicked it into the net like it was a soccer ball,” insisted Darling, who felt the referees made the right call.