NORTH ANDOVER, MASS. -- It was a game that had a playoff-like atmosphere and intensity to it. And as it so often does in tight games, one mistake was the difference. Merrimack capitalized on a turnover to earn the split of the weekend series and a 1-0 win over Providence in front of a sold out Lawler Rink.
"It's a little early for playoff hockey, but that's what I thought this weekend was: two playoff games. [Leaman] has a really good team there. They're not very many weaknesses. You can't make many mistakes and you have to play a really good game," said Merrimack coach Mark Dennehy.
Providence coach Nate Leaman concurred. "It was a great game. It's always a tough game in this building. Things happen fast here," commented Leaman. "It's too bad we made a mistake that cost us the game."
Brian Christie's goal 9:57 into the third period was the difference in the game. It was a weird play where it looked as if Gillies had covered up the puck, but then pushed it to the side wall. Merrimack defenseman and former Friar Craig Wyszomirski got to the loose puck first and fed a wide open Christie who was cutting into the slot. Christie quickly rocketed a laser into the top corner of the net for the game's only score.
"[Wyszomirski] dumped it in on net and continued to retrieve the puck surprisingly," said Christie. He found myself open in the slot and I was able to get a shot off and fortunately it went in."
"It was a typical Hockey East game. It was a hard-fought one-goal game. It came down to one play that we're happy it went the other way. It had a playoff feel to it," said Merrimack goaltender Rasmus Tirronen.
As it has done so well most of the young season, Merrimack did a terrific job getting sticks in lanes, blocking shots and forcing the Friars to the perimeter. Tirronen stopped all 22 shots he faced for his second career shutout and first of the season.
"He's been flat-out solid all season long," said Dennehy. "He gives us a chance every night. He's one of those guys that people overlook, but I'd put him up against any goaltender in our league."
Tirronen, who appears to be more consistent and better prepared for the full 60 minutes this season, credits some of the work he put in back home in Finland over the summer.
"I went home over the summer. I have my goalie coach back home who I work with. We kind of established a couple things that I wanted to work on. Consistency is one. Consistency was a huge thing coming into this year that I wanted to work on. That's my biggest step so far. Hopefully I can keep that going," said Tirronen.
"He does seem to be more tight this season. He had a lot of confidence going into the summer and really worked his tail off. He came back with a fire. It's good to see him rewarded," said Dennehy.
Quinn Gould and Ben Bahe both will have some black and blue on their bodies tomorrow morning after going down to block shots. Officially, the Warriors blocked 12 shots, but it seemed like more. "The guys blocked as many shots as I did saves," said Tirronen.
As it seems to so often do at home, Merrimack caused Providence to rush on several scoring opportunities. "We didn't capitalize on our chances. We missed the net with our best chances," said Leaman.
Despite taking the hard-luck loss, Jon Gillies was outstanding in net for the Friars. The Calgary Flames prospect made several eye-catching glove saves among his 33 on the evening.
"Both goaltenders played terrific in the game. They were both the stars of the night," said Leaman.
Merrimack (6-2-1) had the better of the Friars, the preseason favorite in Hockey East, over the last four periods of the weekend. That bodes well for Dennehy's Warriors as they welcome Notre Dame to Lawler Rink for the first time as a member of Hockey East.
The Friars (3-4-1) fell back below .500 and it doesn't get any easier next weekend with a visit from first place Vermont.
Jeff Cox covers college, junior and high school hockey, NCAA recruiting and NHL Draft prospects. Follow him on Twitter @JeffCoxSports.