By Scott McLaughlin/DFP Staff
Merrimack came into Game 1 of its quarterfinals series against BU with the third-best power play in the country, converting on 22.9 percent of its man-up chance. But on Friday night, the Terrier penalty kill, which had been struggling of late, held the Warrior power play to an 0-for-6 showing.
In its last three games of the regular season, BU killed just 69.2 percent of its penalties (compared to 80.0 percent on the season). In its first postseason game, it kept Merrimack to just three shots on its first five chances. The Warriors broke through with four shots on their last power play of the game, but sophomore goalie Kieran Millan made several timely stops to preserve the 3-2 win.
“We did a great job early on killing their power plays,” BU coach Jack Parker said. “They really put some pressure on us their last couple. I thought we dodged a couple bullets — either Kieran came up with a big save or they shot it wide.”
The key to stopping the Merrimack power play was taking away Stephane Da Costa. The freshman from Paris ranked third in the country and second in Hockey East with 1.42 points per game coming in.
“All week we’ve been working hard on taking away their power play,” said sophomore defenseman David Warsofsky. “They like to find Da Costa a lot, so we recognized where he was on the ice and tried to take him away as best we could. They have a great power play, but tonight I think our penalty kill was a little bit better.”
Still, it was Da Costa who had the best chance to tie the game on the Warriors’ final man advantage. After Terrier forward Vinny Saponari, who had two goals in the game, was sent off for a high stick with six minutes left in the game, Merrimack did a great job cycling the puck and finding shooting lanes.
After Millan had already made three saves on that kill, the puck found its way to Da Costa at the left faceoff dot — his home away from home on the power play. After a brief hesitation, he tried to snipe the top right corner with a slap shot, but Millan snagged it with a flashy glove save.
“He definitely wasn’t happy with their second goal,” Saponari said of his goalie. “To be able to come back like that mentally and make a huge glove save there at the end, that’s what we need him to do. That’s what he did for us last year. We’re pretty confident in him going through. He knows what’s at stake and he’s always played his best in big games.”
Throughout the game, the Warriors kept a forward hanging out at center ice while the Terriers had possession in the offensive zone. They were able to create a number of rushes using it, but ultimately BU was able to adjust and hold the strategy at bay. The Terriers still kept five men in the zone when they had possession, but then got back as quickly as possible as soon as Merrimack took over.
“I’ve seen two or three coaches that have really enjoyed using it a lot,” Parker said. “It’s 4-on-4 in their zone. And when you get possession, you can make it 5-on-4. We had a couple power plays going there for a while. But you better be careful, because if you let him go… In general, we did a pretty good job of coming in and then going back out again when we realized it was imminent danger.”
Warsofsky, for one, enjoyed having the extra space created by Merrimack only bringing four guys back.
“If you’re the guy in the zone, it’s pretty fun,” he said. “You kind of just go wherever you want. So, I definitely liked that a lot. You just have to be aware of where [the hanger] is on the ice.”