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Merrimack 6, Maine 2

Warriors finish the job

Merrimack makes semis for 2d time

By Barbara Matson
Globe Correspondent / March 13, 2011

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NORTH ANDOVER — Merrimack brought in a big, boisterous pep band from the University of Dayton to provide the music, but the noise on the ice was all homemade as the ninth-ranked Warriors dropped Maine, 6-2, last night to sweep their best-of-three Hockey East quarterfinal series and earn their second trip to the conference semifinals Friday at TD Garden.

Junior Carter Madsen notched his first career hat trick and Ryan Flanigan had a goal and three assists as the Warriors ended the season of the 14th-ranked Black Bears (17-12-7). Maine is buried in the 18th spot in the PairWise rankings, leaving it out of the NCAA Tournament.

“We’re excited, obviously,’’ said Merrimack coach Mark Dennehy. “Part of our recruiting pitch for this group was, ‘You get to come in and leave footprints, you get to set the bar for other teams to live up to.’ That’s why we went after championship players.’’

For two nights, Merrimack (24-8-4) sent out its third line, Madsen centering Flanigan and Elliott Sheen, to shut down Maine’s most potent trio, Swedish scoring star Gustav Nyquist (18 goals, 50 points in 36 games) alongside center Tanner House and Brian Flynn. And what the Warriors got were 16 points in two games as Flanigan collected four goals and four assists, Madsen popped for three goals and an assist, and Sheen had two goals (including the winner in Friday’s 5-4 victory in Game 1) and two assists.

Madsen finished his hat trick at 16:31 of the third period, rapping in the rebound of Flanigan’s shot to make it 6-2, as Merrimack overwhelmed Maine in their first playoff series.

“That line’s very good at puck possession, especially below the dots,’’ said Dennehy. “Then all of a sudden you get some tired bodies out there, some seams open up. I mean, that last goal, Carter’s last goal, just a great cycle down low; they used the net, they used each other. [Flanigan] came out for the wrap and the rebound was just sitting there. So yeah, that’s kind of the strategy.’’

So while Maine held Merrimack’s top scorer, Stephane DaCosta (14 goals and 41 points in 30 games) to a single assist in Game 2, Dennehy knew the speed and energy of his third line was a different kind of threat.

“We thought from the start of the season that we had some pretty good players,’’ said Dennehy. “I think that’s one of the things that brought Steph back, and a lot of these guys; we thought we were going to be pretty good.’’

After Merrimack squeezed out a 1-0 lead in the first period, the Volpe Center all but exploded as the Warriors scored three goals in the second. Maine managed one goal to stay in the game, but it was not enough to soothe the savage beast that was the overstuffed crowd of 2,489, Merrimack’s fifth consecutive sellout. They screamed for more.

Flanigan put the exclamation point on a frenetic second period with a breakaway goal at 13:19 that gave Merrimack a 4-1 lead. The Warriors began to look unstoppable.

“We just stuck to our game plan,’’ said Flanigan, “working the puck down low, cycling the puck, that’s what our line does. It worked good tonight.’’

Madsen picked up his second goal at 1:36 of the third period on a feed from Sheen to boost the lead to 5-1. That sent Maine goalie Dan Sullivan to the bench for Shawn Sirman.

Jeff Dimmen added a goal for Maine with the teams skating four aside at 9:43 of the third.

“We got out of the gate pretty good, I thought play was pretty even in the first,’’ said Maine coach Tim Whitehead. “Then in the second period, they got it rolling and got a couple of quick goals.

“All the credit to them, they did a great job taking full advantage of the home ice. The key for us this year was not getting the 2 points to grab home ice, that really cost us.’’