NORTH ANDOVER — Considering how crazy the Hockey East race has been this season, we should have only expected these final games to finish in an equal frenzy.
UMass, which needed at least a tie to keep its playoff hopes alive, scored three goals in the last 4:01 — all three with its goaltender pulled — to force overtime. But Merrimack, which needed a win to keep its home-ice hopes alive, got an extra-session goal from Connor Toomey to beat the Minutemen, 4-3, at Lawler Arena last night.
“It feels good to keep getting these overtime goals,” said Toomey, who also potted the game-winner against Boston College in overtime three weeks ago. “(Brendan) Ellis had the puck at the point and I just wanted to get to the net. He had a good shot off the pad and it fell right on my stick.”
Getting bodies to the net was a point of emphasis for the Warriors this week. Merrimack head coach Mark Dennehy pointed to Lowell’s ability to get to the net front last week in sweeping the Warriors.
“We were better than we were but I still think we were behind the next too much with our second and third guys,” Dennehy said. “We still had opportunities to plant ourselves in front but I thought it was better for sure. We’ll continue to work on it because it needs to be better, that’s how you score goals.”
Merrimack took a 2-0 lead on goals from Jordan Heywood and John Gustafsson. UMass scored its first extra-attacker goal at the 15:59 mark of the third period before Mike Collins made it 3-1. Conor Sheary and Rocco Carzo both scored in the final 2:37 to tie the score before Toomey’s overtime winner.
“We’ve been having a little trouble scoring lately,” Merrimack freshman winger John Gustafsson said. “Four goals is good for us. We just need to not let in three now so we don’t have to play overtime. But it’s always nice to get that confidence back.”