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Merrimack needs at least three points against Maine to keep playoff hopes alive

Merrimack enters this weekend’s two-game series with Maine needing at least three points to keep its playoff hopes alive …

Photo: Merrimack Athletics

Ed. Note — This story will appear in the Thursday edition of The Eagle Tribune

It has been a difficult 14 days for the Merrimack men’s hockey team. The Warriors have lost five games in a row, and with a bye week two weeks ago, other teams gained ground on the Warriors for the final playoff position in the league.

Heading into this weekend’s two-game series with Maine, the Warriors are nine points back of the Black Bears for the final playoff spot with just six games (12 points) remaining on the schedule

Anything less than three points (a win and a tie) this weekend will eliminate the Warriors from playoff contention.

“We need to stay as positive as we can,” said Merrimack head coach Scott Borek. “You can’t win two games before you win one, so our focus is on Friday night.”

The playoff race is still alive, and as Borek put it, “until we’re out of it, we’re in it.” But the coaching staff has been preaching a one-game-at-a-time mentality.

“Don’t worry about trying to control things you can’t control,” he said. “That’s a waste of time. Our focus is on us.”

Borek said he watched the Black Bears on film earlier this week and they present a physical style that he’s not sure the Warriors have seen yet this season.

Maine is 4-3-1 in its last eight games, including a win over UMass and Providence. Chase Pearson leads the Black Bears with 15 goals and Mitchell Fossier has 28 points (4 goals, 24 assists) to lead the team.

Goaltender Jeremy Swayman has been solid, posting a 2.85 GAA and a .918 save percentage. Swayman only allowed two goals on 61 shots last weekend in two home games against Providence.

“They are extremely physical,” he said. “They will hunt you down and come after you with numbers. The pressure we’ll face this weekend will be unique to anything we’ve seen this year. They air it out and come after you with multiple people in all three zones.”

Junior goaltender Logan Halladay has started two straight games for the Warriors and has allowed nine goals, but Borek said the defensive numbers are more about team coverage of the defensive zone.

Borek’s plan for the weekend is to start two different goalies, but he said on Wednesday who would start which game wasn’t decided yet.

“We still have a few more days left of practice,” he said. “Logan competed hard against UVM and UConn. We have been less than average in our defensive zone, and that’s disappointing. We practice it a lot and we talk about it a lot, but we haven’t been great in that area. We need to be willing to jump in front of more pucks. We need to be willing to play tougher there.”

Merrimack and Maine will play two games at Lawler Arena starting on Friday night (7 p.m.) and finishing up the series on Saturday (7 p.m.).

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