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Warriors walk off on Tibbet's double overtime goal to sweep Northeastern

Freshman Mathieu Tibbet scored 15:42 into the second overtime and senior goaltender Rasmus Tirronen made 63 saves on 64 shots to lift 11th-seeded Merrimack to a 2-1 win, sweeping its Hockey East first-round series Saturday at Northeastern's Matthews Arena.

Matt Dewkett

BOSTON -- It fell well short of the longest game in college hockey history played into Saturday morning at Notre Dame, but the end result was as sweet for Merrimack as it was for UMass upon winning in the fifth overtime.

Freshman Mathieu Tibbet scored 15:42 into the second extra session and senior goaltender Rasmus Tirronen made 63 saves on 64 shots to lift the 11th-seeded Warriors to a 2-1 win over Northeastern in the second game of the Hockey East Opening Round on Saturday at Matthews Arena.

"I am not going to apologize for having a good goalie," Merrimack head coach Mark Dennehy said after his team finished off the series sweep. "It's probably one of the most important parts of the game and we have a good one, but I thought our team played really well in front of him."

Classmate Jace Hennig set up Tibbet for the winner, feeding him a pass to the front of the net. He moved the puck across the crease, but NU senior goaltender Clay Witt (47 saves) used his pad to block it initially. Each of the game's three goals were scored on the power play.

The puck sprung free and Tibbet was able to sneak it just across the goal line for his second marker in four games, lifting the Warriors to the quarterfinals for the first time since 2013.

Merrimack entered the weekend without a Hockey East road win since Feb. 2, 2013 at New Hampshire, but rattled off two consecutive to oust the host Huskies.

"Sometimes when the safety net gets pulled away, there is definitely a lot more attention to detail," Dennehy said, "and there's a finality about the end of the season that often times will bring focus. ... We played better (as compared to going 0-7-1 in February) and maybe it is because there was nothing to hold back for."

Northeastern placed 14 of its 30 shot attempts on goal in the first period, but Merrimack senior Rasmus Tirronen held the fort as he has done all season long and kept the game scoreless.

The Warrior defense did an outstanding job covering junior sniper Kevin Roy in the frame, despite him taking four shots on goal, as he was kept to the outside and well marked by freshman Marc Biega on numerous opportunities.

The second period turned out to be more even, but the Huskies were able to get the bounces to fall their way and take their first lead of the weekend on a power play opportunity at 12:19.

Merrimack had several opportunities to clear the puck from Tirronen's crease but sophomore Zach Aston-Reese backhanded a rebound home for his second goal in as many nights.

The lead was short-lived for the home team though as freshman Jace Hennig scored at 16:32, picking up the rebound from Biega's contested point shot for his 12th goal of the season. Witt's rebound sailed right into the slot where the rookie was able to put it home with relative ease.

Tirronen made ten saves in what turned out be a clean third period for both goaltenders, going a combined 19-for-19 in save opportunities. Huskies junior defensemen Jarrett Fennell and Colton Saucerman had strong chances from just inside the blue line in the final eight minutes which trickled through bodies but eluded the back of the net.

"I liked the way our guys played tonight," NU head coach Jim Madigan said. "Their goalie was the difference in the series, plain and simple. If it's not for him, I think I'm singing a different song here. He was just immense and we just couldn't solve him."

NU was unable to take advantage of a pair of golden power play opportunities in overtime to extend the series and its season.

Merrimack was whistled for too many men on the ice at 14:01 after senior Quinn Gould went off for interference, but the Warriors killed both infractions off thanks to five Tirronen saves.

A power play set up the winning goal for Merrimack in the second extra frame. Roy was called for goaltender interference after running into Tirronen following his great save on a drive to the inside.

However, the Warriors had to endure a lengthy review before it counted as the officials opted to check to see if the puck fully crossed the line as Witt helped it over. The celebration was a bit delayed, but it counted and the Warriors will play on.

"I got a pretty good look at it coming around behind the net there," Tibbet said. "I checked with Marc Biega; he was out there with me too and he said he got a pretty good look. We just stayed calm."

The Warriors will have to settle for winning the 26th-longest game in college hockey history, but the impression is left that Dennehy does not mind.

"It was a hard fought win," Dennehy said after just the fifth double-overtime game in Merrimack program history. "Both of those games could have gone either way, but I thought we gutted them out."

The Warriors battled and will get to do so once again next weekend in the quarterfinals. If Notre Dame finishes off its series with UMass on Sunday night, Merrimack will face top-seeded Boston University at Agganis Arena.