NORTH ANDOVER — Saturday night’s game between 15th-ranked Northeastern and Merrimack was a tale of teams trending in different directions.
The Huskies were struggling and the Warriors had rebounded from a rocky beginning.
Northeastern started well in scoring the first two goals, but then gave up four unanswered tallies as Merrimack earned the 4-2 victory in front of a sold-out homecoming crowd of 2,489.
Coach Mark Dennehy said the revved-up crowd helped keep the Warriors in the game until they could start a comeback.
“I do think that this is home-ice advantage,” he said. “It’s not a fun place [for opponents] to play.
“Confidence is an interesting thing with athletes. We have a level of confidence here at home when we’re down. Of course, I’d like us to be leading and have confidence. But they’re committed to the full 60 and they gave our crowd something to cheer about and the building got louder.’’
After a dismal, penalty-plagued loss at Matthews Arena Friday night, their first at home, the Huskies were determined to end a four-game winless streak (0-3-1) and get their record back to .500. Instead, their streak was extended.
NU (2-4-1 overall and in Hockey East) took a 2-0 lead into the first intermission.
At 12:05, senior right wing Vinny Saponari finished off a setup by freshman center Mike McMurtry. Saponari’s one-timer from the slot was his first tally of the season and fourth point.
At 17:44, mammoth Merrimack defenseman Kyle Bigos, who was playing just his second game since returning from a a lower-body injury suffered on his first shift in the season opener, took a penalty for interference.
The Huskies cashed in on the man advantage at 18:32 when freshman left wing Kevin Roy threw the puck toward the net from the boards. McMurtry was positioned in front and tipped it past sophomore netminder Rasmus Tirronen (24 saves).
Each team had 10 shots in the opening frame but Merrimack (4-3-1, 3-1-1) wasn’t able to generate a goal despite having one power play.
The Warriors broke through at 2:51 of the second when junior center Shawn Bates potted his first of the year, beating senior netminder Chris Rawlings (29 saves).
Merrimack pulled even with just 27.5 seconds remaining in the period.
Freshman center Vinny Scotti took the initial shot, which Rawlings was able to stop. But junior left wing Mike Collins pounced on the rebound in front and beat Rawlings to make it 2-2. It was Collins’s fifth goal of the season.
The second period has not been kind to the Huskies this season. Through seven games they have scored 11 goals in the opening 20 minutes, but not a single goal in the middle frame — while allowing seven goals in the period.
Merrimack nearly took its first lead in the first minute of the third when Collins fired a tricky shot from the right circle that Rawlings managed to corral.
The Warriors pressured NU again at 6:55 when freshman right wing Ben Bahe made several attempts to jam in the puck from the top of the crease, but Rawlings held him at bay.
With 7:30 remaining in regulation, Scotti raced in on Rawlings, deked a defender, and tested the goalie with a shot, but he was denied.
Merrimack broke the tie with 3:27 left, with the teams skating four a side.
Junior defenseman Jordan Heywood scored his fourth of the season when he took advantage of a turnover by NU and beat Rawlings from the slot.
Sophomore left wing Kyle Singleton sealed it with an empty-net goal as the horn sounded.
“Well, it was obviously disappointing,’’ said NU coach Jim Madigan. “[We had] a two-goal lead, and to give it up, and we’ve done that a couple of times now. To lose with three minutes left in the game on a bad turnover in our own zone is disappointing.
“We certainly played with a lot more discipline tonight than we did last night. But at the end of the day, it’s about getting points in this league and we didn’t get any points.
“So we have to get back to the drawing board and focus on scoring more goals and in our own zone, being a lot more stingier and making sure we’re managing pucks a lot better than we are right now.’’