North Andover, Mass. -- University of New Hampshire sophomore goaltender Danny Tirone made 45 saves as the Wildcats took game one of the best-of-three Hockey East Playoffs first round series over Merrimack, 3-1, on Thursday night at Lawler Rink.
Outside of two power play attempts in the first 30 minutes of the game, the Wildcats were getting completely dominated by the host Warriors. Then, Tyler Kelleher banged home a rebound to give UNH a 1-0 lead with 5:15 left in the second period. Linemates Dan Correale and Andrew Poturalski were credited with the assists on the transition goal that started with a zone entry on the right side of the sheet.
The Wildcats extended their lead to 2-0 at the 4:10 mark of the third period after Kyle Smith won a draw back to the point. The first two shots were blocked, but Marcus Vela picked up the loose puck, spun around and fired one through the wickets of Merrimack freshman goaltender Drew Vogler.
Merrimack took advantage of its superior speed to cut the UNH lead in half with 7:58 left in the third period. Chris Leblanc beat a UNH defender to a loose puck before firing a shot off the mask of Tirone. The rebound came to Derek Petti who backhanded it into the net.
With Merrimack throwing everything but the kitchen sink at Tirone, the Wildcats salted away the victory. Vela added his second of the night and seventh of the season to put UNH ahead 3-1 with 13 seconds remaining.
The Warriors and Wildcats will be back at it Friday night in a do-or-die for Mark Dennehy's club.
4 Observations from Game 1
- Danny Tirone was the number one difference in this game, but he's not unsolvable. There were rebounds to be had, but the Warriors just couldn't finish. Vogler made some key saves for the Warriors, but the second goal was one he'd like to have back. Thursday was Tirone's second blanking of Merrimack. The other came last season. It was his second shutout of the season and fourth of his career, but the first away from the Whittemore Center.
- Merrimack controlled puck possession for large stretches of the game in large part to its edge in speed. The lone goal of the game was a perfect example of this as Leblanc out-raced a UNH defender to a loose puck after coming from several strides behind at the start of the battle. Merrimack did a good job in the opening period of establishing its forecheck and cycling the puck, but wasn't able to penetrate the slot and get into the scoring areas.
- Across the board, Merrimack is a better skating team than UNH, but doesn't have the overall skill and players that make you get on the edge of your seats as your watching. In all three match-ups this season between the two teams, UNH has finished and cashed in on its opportunities while Merrimack has worn out the UNH logo in Tirone's jersey.
- Outside of Tirone, the best player on the ice was Merrimack sophomore defenseman Jared Kolquist. He pushed the pace, made a few real nice lead passes, skated the puck up ice, walked the blue line on the power play and impacted zone entry. He does a good job distributing the puck and exhibiting poise and composure with it on his stick. He also made a few nice plays defensively and has a real good stick. He's small, but he's a great college defenseman and is vastly underrated around Hockey East.