Ludvig Larsson’s third-period goal was the game-winner as Merrimack beat Vermont, 2-0, clinching home ice in the playoffs …
NORTH ANDOVER — For the first time since 2011, Merrimack will host a Hockey East playoff series following last night’s 2-0 win over Vermont at J. Thom Lawler Rink.
Merrimack entered the game needing a win to clinch home ice, and also would have been able to host a series with a tie as long as New Hampshire didn’t beat Connecticut. But with UNH leading 4-1 in the third period, it was apparent that Merrimack would need a win.
Ed. Note — This story will also appear in Sunday’s Eagle Tribune
As the Warriors entered the third period, it didn’t take long for them to grab a lead. After Brett Seney made a play in the neutral zone to get the puck to Ludvig Larsson, taking a hit to deliver the pass, Larsson raced down the left-wing side and beat Vermont goalie Mike Santaguida with a shot to the short side.
Ben Bahe added an empty-netter late for the Warriors. In another crazy finish, UConn stormed back and beat UNH in overtime.
“We did what we had to do in order to get two points and secure home ice,” Merrimack coach Mark Dennehy said. “I want to give Coach (Kevin) Sneddon and the Catamounts a lot of credit, tonight was a battle. We didn’t play our best hockey and some of the things they did had a lot to do with that. I thought that our compete increased each period and we did what we needed to do.”
Merrimack freshman goaltender Drew Vogler made 26 saves for his first career shutout. Vogler stopped 49 of the 50 shots he faced on the weekend in helping the Warriors sweep Vermont, and he now has a 2.23 goals-against average and a .916 save percentage on the season.
“In my 20-something years of coaching, I’ve never seen a goaltender grow in the last four months like he has,” Dennehy said. “A lot of it has to do with confidence, but his acclimation to the play and the level of play has been excellent. He has gotten better. He had that stint at Christmas and he played OK, but not great. But he used it wisely, he learned from it, and he’s come back and been really good.”
After snapping a 10-game losing streak to Arizona State on Jan. 31, the Warriors are 4-2-2 in their last eight games and 3-1-1 in their last five, with the only loss during that span coming against Maine in overtime last Saturday.
“The last six-game stretch we’ve been playing much better as a whole,” said Merrimack senior captain Brian Christie. “All 20 guys going every night. We’re doing the little things that we work on and Coach preaches. It’s been working. We just need to keep at it.”
Vogler was helped by standout play from Merrimack’s defensive unit, in particular Jared Kolquist and Marc Biega, who logged big minutes with Alex Carle out with an upper-body injury and Matt Cronin going down last night with a lower-body injury.
“They just battle,” Dennehy said. “There’s a reason there are As on their shirts. We log minutes, and I think the iPad might have exploded this weekend. With Carle down and Cronin hurt yesterday, we had to shorten the bench. They had 25 or 26 minutes last night and they had probably 30 tonight.”
Merrimack will host UNH on Thursday night in Game 1 of the Hockey East playoffs.
Merrimack 2, Vermont 0
at J. Thom Lawler Rink, Merrimack
Vermont (12-20-3, 6-13-3 HE): 0-0-0—0
Merrimack (11-16-7, 5-10-7 HE): 0-0-2—2
First Period: None.
Second Period: None.
Third Period: 1. MC Ludvig Larsson (Jonathan Lashyn, Hampus Gustafsson), ev, 4:06; 2. MC Ben Bahe 10 (Hampus Gustafsson, Brian Christie), en, 19:12.
Shots: Merrimack 10-8-7—25; Vermont 5-10-11—26
Saves: MC Vogler 5-10-11—26; UVM Santaguida 10-8-5—23
Power Play: Merrimack 0 for 3; Vermont 0 for 4
Penalties: Merrimack 7-25; Vermont 6-12
Next: Hosts New Hampshire Thursday, 7 (HEA First Round)