LOWELL — UMass Lowell scored three goals in the first seven minutes of the second period to take a commanding lead and never looked back, shutting out Merrimack 5-0 on the final night of the regular season in Hockey East.
The Warriors and River Hawks will meet again in the Hockey East playoffs next weekend, with the best-of-3 series beginning on Friday night at the Tsongas Center.
“Lowell stuck to their game plan,” said Merrimack head coach Mark Dennehy, whose team took the first game of the weekend home-and-home set, 4-1, on Friday night. “They did what we thought they’d do. They played hard and they played heavy. Our team didn’t respond as I would have liked them to.”
The goals came fast and furious in the second period after Lowell outshot Merrimack 11-4 in the opening 20 minutes. Tommy Panico scored first on a point shot through traffic. Ryan Dmowksi doubled the Lowell lead after tipping a one-timer off the stick of Matti Goransson. Connor Sodergren made it 3-0, converting a goal off a Merrimack turnover in the corner.
Lowell snapped a five-game losing streak with the win.
“I thought it was a big win for us,” said UMass Lowell coach Norm Bazin. “It gets us out of this funk. We obviously played a great opponent and now comes the second season in the playoffs.
“(Friday night) they had the edge,” Bazin continued. “Tonight we found a way to finish. (The net-front) is a tough area and there are a lot of good teams in Hockey East. There are very few ways to manufacture offense.”
After Lowell’s third goal, Dennehy pulled starter Craig Pantano (15 saves) for freshman Logan Halladay, who was making only his second appearance of the season.
UMass Lowell started Christoffer Hernberg, who had been the primary starter for most of the season; the River Hawks gave Tyler Wall a start on Friday at Lawler Arena. Hernberg is allowing more than two goals per game less than Wall this season.
“Anyone who watches Lowell knows that there is very little deviation,” Dennehy said. “They stuck to their game plan and got more pucks to the net, quicker. They were on the balls of their feet and they were playing fast. We were in mud at times. But it wasn’t anything that they don’t normally do.”
Shot attempts in the first period were 20-17 River Hawks despite the 11-4 edge in shots on goal. UMass Lowell blocked five Merrimack shots and eight missed the net. The disparity was much larger in the second period (27-10) as Lowell began to carry much of the period’s possession. The third period was back even (17-14 edge for Merrimack), but the River Hawks converted on two more goals.
“It’s such a game of inches,” said Bazin. “There is a fine line between winning and losing. Last night (Merrimack) had a few bounces and we had a few tonight. We know they’re a great opponent.”
Game 1 of the Hockey East First Round will be Friday night at 7:15. Game 2 will be Saturday at 7 p.m. and a Game 3, if necessary, will be played Sunday afternoon at 4 p.m.
UMass Lowell 5, Merrimack 0 at Tsongas Center Merrimack (10-19-4): 0-0-0—0 UMass Lowell (17-17-0): 0-3-2—5 1st Period Scoring - None Penalties - Ludvig Larsson, MER (High-Sticking) 7:19; Keith Burchett, UML (Tripping) 12:36 2nd Period Scoring - 1, UML Tommy Panico/8 (Chris Forney/13, John Edwardh/11) 1:14 (GW) 2, UML Ryan Dmowski/10 (Mattias Göransson/8, Tyler Mueller/12) 5:15 (PP) 3, UML Connor Sodergren/4 (Ryan Dmowski/11) 6:31 Penalties - Craig Pantano, MER (Tripping) 4:28; Cole Paskus, UML (Boarding) 7:00; Jared Kolquist, MER (Hooking) 9:35; Sami Tavernier, MER (Slashing) 13:51; Connor Sodergren, UML (Slashing) 13:51; Ryan Collins, UML (Roughing) 19:39 3rd Period Scoring - 4, UML Chris Forney/7 (Connor Wilson/7) 6:57 5, UML Ryan Dmowski/11 (Connor Wilson/8, Tyler Mueller/13) 10:49 (PP) Penalties - Logan Coomes, MER (Tripping) 2:02; Cole McBride, MER (Embellishment) 9:20; Tyler Drevitch, MER (Hitting after the Whistle) 9:20; Jake Kamrass, UML (Hitting after the Whistle) 9:20; Simon Lööf, MER (Slashing) 16:09; Connor Wilson, UML (Slashing) 20:00 Merrimack Goaltending - Craig Pantano (26:31, 18 shots, 15 saves, 3 GA); Logan Halladay (33:29, 12 shots, 10 saves, 2 GA) UMass Lowell Goaltending - Christoffer Hernberg (60:00, 21 shots, 21 saves, 0 GA) Win - Christoffer Hernberg, UML (14-8-0). Loss - Craig Pantano, MER (9-12-2). Shots On Goal - MER 4-9-8=21; UML 11-13-6=30 Power Plays - MER 0 of 3; UML 2 of 6 Penalties - MER 8 (16 min); UML 6 (12 min)