Brett Seney's top shelf backhander with 6:28 left in the third period held up as the game-winner as Merrimack skated past 15th-ranked Vermont 3-2 on Senior Night at Gutterson Fieldhouse on Saturday.
UVM closed the regular season at 18-11-5 (10-8-4 HEA), earning the 6-seed and a matchup with 11-seed Maine in the best-of-three Hockey East First Round next weekend in Burlington. MC improved to 14-14-6 (8-8-6 HEA) to clinch home ice with the 7-seed.
Merrimack opened the scoring just 2:14 into the game on a shot from Derek Petti. The Warriors transitioned in the neutral zone when Ludvig Larsson sent a cross-ice pass to Jonathan Lashyn, who found Petti streaking into the zone. Petti quickly wristed a shot over Lekkas' glove for a 1-0 lead.
Less than four minutes later, the Catamounts equalized on a goal from Jarrid Privitera as he streaked out of the penalty box. With time expiring in Privitera's slashing penalty, Mario Puskarich cleared the puck out along the left wing to spring the junior on a breakaway. Privitera faked on the backhand and finished on his forehand to tie the game up 1-1.
A netfront flurry began around the Warriors' net as the puck came loose in the crease. Craig Puffer stuck the puck over the goal line off Colin Delia's glove, but it was waved off after a lengthy review due to a kicked puck.
Warriors then stole the lead back at 12:49 when they recovered a loose puck in the Catamounts' zone. Jonathan Kovacevic turned and found Jace Hennig in the high-slot, and Hennig quickly released a shot that found the left side of the net.
Vermont tied the contest for a second time just four seconds into its second power play at 16:17. Off the faceoff in the left circle, Puskarich found Brady Shaw at the point who collected the puck and walked the line to fire a wrist shot through traffic and beat Delia. Puskarich posted his second assist of the night on the play, while Brian Bowen collected the second.
It remained tied until the final seven minutes when Seney streaked down the right side in transition. Seney lifted a backhander from the right circle that snuck under the crossbar to put the Warriors ahead for good.
UVM thought it had tied the game with two and a half minutes remaining, but had a goal waved off due to goalie interference. Bowen drove the net down the right wing and the puck popped out to Puffer, who fired a shot into the lower left corner. The goal was immediately waved off as Bowen's contact with Delia was reviewed and the call on the ice stood.
Merrimack's forecheck in the closing minutes limited the Catamounts' effort to pull Lekkas for an extra skater. A centering pass to Jake Massie as time expired was deflected away and the Warriors hung on for the win and weekend split.
Vermont will host Maine in a best-of-three Hockey East First Round series next weekend (March 3-5) at Gutterson Fieldhouse. Games 1 and 2 begin at 7:05 p.m. on Friday and Saturday night, while Game 3 if necessary begins at 4:05 p.m. on Sunday.
Courtesy: UVM Athletics
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