ORONO – It might be difficult to decide what was more noteworthy about the University of Maine’s 4-0 victory against Merrimack on Friday night.
Was it the fact the Black Bears held the No. 4 team in the nation to one shot on goal in the first period or that after three shutouts, freshman Dan Sullivan is fewer than 14 minutes from setting a school goaltending record?
Two other points of emphasis came out of the Black Bears’ fourth consecutive victory: the absurd number of penalties and Josh Van Dyk scoring his first goal in 51 games.
The bottom line is the Black Bears are creating momentum with three games left before the postseason.
Maine (15-10-6, 12-8-4 Hockey East) is in fifth place in the league with 28 points, four behind Boston University and three ahead of Northeastern.
“We’re not sure who we’re going to be playing in the first round here, and it looks like it’s either Merrimack or Boston University,” said Maine left wing Spencer Abbott, who had a goal and two assists.
“If we can take the rest of the season with wins, I think that can really springboard us into the postseason.”
The No. 16 Black Bears ended Merrimack’s eight-game winning streak by outshooting the Warriors (21-6-4, 15-6-3) 8-1 in the first period, limiting high-quality chances in front of Sullivan and creating traffic in front of the Merrimack goal.
“I didn’t think we were that determined,” said Merrimack Coach Mark Dennehy, whose team took its first road loss since a 2-1 setback Nov. 27 at New Hampshire. “I didn’t think we were ready to shoot pucks. We were not as thorough as we need to be, not as prepared as we need to be mentally.”
Sullivan, who finished with 15 saves, has held opponents scoreless for 180 minutes — the second-longest stretch in school history. He’s 13 minutes, 46 seconds away from setting the university record of 193:45, set by Jimmy Howard, who now plays for the Detroit Red Wings, in 2002-2003.
“Our defense is just playing really solid 60-minute efforts the last couple nights and it’s really been paying off,” Sullivan said.
“We’re really bouncing around in front, trying to limit their second chances on rebounds and trying to get in between me and their forwards, so I think it’s been great. It makes it a lot easier on me and I think we need to keep that up, and we can be successful.”
Abbott scored first at 4:27 when his pass from the left circle bounced off Merrimack defenseman Jordan Heywood and past goalie Joe Cannata (13 saves). Van Dyk’s first goal of the season made it 2-0 with 2:36 left in the first period.
At 12:09 of the second, 13 seconds after getting back on the ice from a tripping penalty, Tanner House gave Maine a 3-0 lead, taking a pass from Kyle Beattie off a turnover in the neutral zone to beat Cannata.
Brian Flynn made it 4-0 with 2:13 left in the second.
Sam Marotta replaced Cannata at the start of the third, finishing with 13 saves in a period in which Maine and Merrimack took a combined 33 penalties, including nine 10-minute misconducts.
“We’re sticking to the game plan and keeping things simple,” Sullivan said. “Not trying to get too fancy, just doing what we need to do and it’s paying off for us. That, combined with great team defense, is going to pay off.”
NOTES: Maine Coach Tim Whitehead said Gustav Nyquist (head) is probable for today’s series finale against the Warriors after he was hit into the end boards by Merrimack defenseman Kyle Bigos. “We won’t know more until (today),” Whitehead said. Bigos received a five-minute major for contact to the head/roughing and a game disqualification, and won’t play tonight.
Staff Writer Rachel Lenzi can be contacted at 791-6415 or at: