Preview: #17 Merrimack vs #10/12 UMass Lowell

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If UML wins today, they clinch a home ice spot in the Hockey East Tournament

If UML wins today, they clinch a home ice spot in the Hockey East Tournament

We’re minutes away from puck drop here at Lawler as Merrimack is essentially playing for their playoff lives. ULowell comes in red-hot after dropping BC at BC Tuesday night and blanking Merrimack 4-0 Friday night in Lowell.

After playing themselves right back into the national conversation, Merrimack has dropped 3 straight contests: Sunday 2-1 in OT to BC, a 5-2 drubbing at BU Tuesday, and an equally poor 4-0 loss to Lowell Friday night.

Mark Dennehy has made some drastic changes to his lineup for tonight’s game. Freshman Brian Christie and sophomore Josh Myers are healthy scratches today for the Warriors. Christie has played in every game since opening night, and for the majority of the second half has centered the first line with Mike Collins and Quinn Gould (since Gould returned from a shoulder injury). Friday, Christie was dropped to the fourth line.

In their stead, freshman Ben Bahe moves onto the fourth line right wing, and senior John Heffernan, typically a wing, is centering the fourth line. Senior Brandon Brodhag, who hasn’t played since December 29th in the Vermount Tournament against Princeton, is active tonight on the second line.

Sophomore Rasmus Tirronen is also in net tonight for the Warriors. Tirronen replaced usual starter Sam Marotta in the second period Tuesday night at BU after Marotta gave up 3 first period goals, but Tirronen promptly gave up 2 goals of his own in the period before playing a scoreless third. Marotta returned to the net Friday in Lowell, giving up 2 quick goals midway through the third period. The game was scoreless before that.

Merrimack has scored 3 goals in their last 3 games.

In terms of playoff seeding, here’s what it looks like for the Warriors:

The team currently has 27 points, 4 out of first place with 3 to play including today’s game. Should they win, they stand 1 point out of a home ice spot for the Hockey East tournament, and 2 points out of first overall. Next weekend they take on unranked UMass in a home and home series, the final regular season game coming in Amherst Saturday.

As for the PWR, they are in 30th place, 14 spots out of an at-large bid. Should they win, they’ll move up to 26th and if they win their final 3 they’ll stand roughly in 21st. This means they’d at the VERY least have to get out of the quarterfinals in the HE Tourney, and if they lose another game they’d probably need to make it to the HE Finals to even have a shot.

Of course, should they win the tournament, they’d receive an automatic bid. I may be the only person left outside of their locker room who believes they can do it, but they’ll go as far as their goaltending takes them, despite their offesne. When Marotta is on fire, this team can do anything. One goal can be enough, a two goal lead might as well be 10. There’s a lot of proud players in that locker room that don’t want to go out this way. We’ll see if they get what they came for.