NORTH ANDOVER, Mass. — The University of Maine hockey team’s woes against the upper echelon in Hockey East continued Friday night.
Senior right wing Jesse Todd’s second power-play goal of the second period, coming with 4:42 remaining, answered two straight goals by the Black Bears and re-established a three-goal lead to help Merrimack College post a comfortable 6-2 victory at Lawler Arena Friday night.
Merrimack, the nation’s seventh-ranked team, improved to 12-4-4 overall and 8-3-2 in Hockey East. It was Merrimack’s fourth straight win over Maine, including a 2-1 victory in Orono in a mutual season-opener on Oct. 7.
Merrimack has also won the last four meetings at Lawler Arena, outscoring Maine 24-9.
Maine had its four-game winning streak snapped and the Black Bears are now 10-8-2 and 7-7-1, respectively.
Maine is now 0-6 against the other teams in the top five in the league standings: Boston College, Boston University, Merrimack and UMass Lowell.
It was the most goals allowed by the Black Bears this season.
The teams will play again Saturday at 5 p.m.
“They played great,” said Maine senior defenseman and co-captain Will O’Neill. “They outplayed us and outworked us. They beat us to pucks. They got to the slot and got power play chances and that’s what we have to do on Saturday.”
Maine coach Tim Whitehead said the Black Bears have to “compete harder and block more shots” on Saturday night if they’re going to beat the Warriors.
He also said they have to do a better job on face-offs.
“They scored three goals directly off face-offs and a face-off they won in the defensive zone eventually led to another,” said Whitehead. “We only won 43 percent of the face-offs.”
The Warriors, who swept Maine out of the Hockey East quarterfinals a year ago and earned an NCAA Tournament berth, built a 4-0 lead on first-period goals by Carter Madsen and Jordan Heywood and second-period tallies by Kyle Bigos and Todd.
Freshman John Parker’s first career goal, a power-play tally, and Spencer Abbot’s score 3:56 later in the period cut the lead to 4-2 but, just six seconds after Brice O’Connor was assessed a holding penalty, Todd blasted a one-timer past Maine goalie Dan Sullivan.
Karl Stollery got the puck over to Ryan Flanigan and he fed Todd for the one-timer. It was essentially the same play as Todd’s previous power-play goal.
“Maine is pretty aggressive on the penalty kill and that [play] was something we thought we could do,” said Merrimack coach Mark Dennehy. “Every once in a while, if you throw enough spaghetti at the wall it will stick.”
Todd had scored the game-winner in the October game.
Stollery cemented the win with Merrimack’s third power-play goal of the evening 5:39 into the third period as he dove head-first and chipped a rebound past sophomore goalie Martin Ouellette, who replaced Sullivan after the second period.
Stollery’s goal came on a four-on-three power play.
Sullivan has allowed 20 goals on 111 shots in four games at Lawler Arena.
“We were ready to play from the get-go,” said Dennehy. “I thought we were very disciplined. We stayed out of the penalty box, we played hard and we capitalized on our chances. We played a pretty solid game.”
Dennehy said it was essential to keep Maine’s potent power play off the ice.
Maine went 1-for-2 on the power play while Merrimack went 3-for-6.
Madsen, who had three goals and two assists in the quarterfinal sweep of Maine last season, opened the scoring with a shot past Sullivan’s glove off a two-on-one just 5:51 into the game.
Heywood made it 2-0 2:09 later when he trailed a rush, accepted a pass from Elliott Sheen, and beat Sullivan.
Bigos made it 3-0 just 1:08 into the middle period when his screened shot from the point beat the helpless Sullivan.
Todd expanded the lead just five seconds after Mark Nemec was called for hooking.
Parker cut it to 4-1 when he snapped home a loose puck after Matt Mangene had fed a pass over to Brian Flynn.
Abbott pulled the Black Bears within two when he took a pass from Flynn, busted around Bigos and pulled the puck around Joe Cannata before tucking it home.
Cannata finished with 24 saves and Flanigan had four assists. Stollery had two assists to go with his goal and Todd had an assist to go with his two goals. Sheen had two assists.
Sullivan made 18 saves on 23 shots and Ouellette stopped nine of 10 as Merrimack outshot Maine 33-26.
Whitehead said the turning point in the game occurred when Maine failed to convert a three-on-one break right before the O’Connor penalty and Todd’s second power-play goal.
He also said Cannata was a “difference-maker” especially in the first period when Maine had some glittering chances to take the lead only to be thwarted by the senior goalie.
“There were some positives but any time you lose 6-2, the negatives far outweigh the positives,” said Whitehead.
He said Parker was a bright spot as was fellow freshman Higgins but Higgins took a puck on the ankle while blocking a shot and will probably miss Saturday’s game.
Forwards Klas Leidermark and Andrew Cerretani and defenseman Jacob Rutt, who were healthy scratches, will probably be inserted into Saturday’s lineup and Whitehead will make a decision about the goaltender Saturday.