NEW HAVEN, Conn. - Freshman forward Hampus Gustafsson (Ljungby, Sweden) posted his first two-goal performance of his young career, but No. 9 Yale erased a one-goal deficit in the third to send the game to overtime, and Chris Izmirlian won it in the sudden-victory session to hand the Warriors a 3-2 road setback on Saturday night at Ingalls Rink.
For only the third time this season, Merrimack found the back of the net first against its opponent, as the Warriors carried a 1-0 lead through 40 minutes of play before an action-packed final frame.
The Bulldogs used two goals over the final 20 minutes - including the equalizer with just more than seven minutes to go - to send the contest to overtime, and in the five-minute, winner-take-all period, a turnover in the Merrimack zone allowed Frankie DiChiara to fire a close-range chance at junior Rasmus Tirronen (Espoo, Finland); Tirronen came up with the initial save, but with the puck loose in the crease and sliding near the goal line, Izmirlian hopped on the opportunity to wrap up the victory for the home side.
Heavily outshot in the game, 34-15, Tirronen was a bright spot for Merrimack, finishing with a season-high 31 saves to keep the Warriors in it and was brilliant in stretches of the first - when Merrimack was outshot by 10 - and even more so in the third, when the Warriors were outshot by 12. His counterpart, Alex Lyon, needed to make just 13 saves to improve to 3-2-2 on the year, while Tirronen fell to 2-3-1.
Merrimack needed little time to open up the scoring, as Gustafsson buried his third marker of the year at 4:21 of the first period on a setup from classmate Chris LeBlanc (Winthrop, Mass.) to give the Warriors an early lead. Gustafsson clanked one off the back bar and in thanks to a perfect feed into the low slot; sophomore Brian Christie (West Chester, Pa.) picked up the secondary assist on the play, as well.
After that, though, Yale kept Merrimack back in its own end for the majority of the first, as the Bulldogs held a commanding 13-3 edge in shots but were mystified by Tirronen, who turned away all of them in the opening stanza to keep the visitors ahead.
Following a scoreless second frame commanded by the Warriors, who held an 8-3 lead in shot attempts during the middle stanza, both sides lit the lamp nine seconds apart in the early goings of the third.
First, Yale broke through after Gus Young snuck one through the pads of a screened Tirronen at 2:33, only to be answered on the other end by Gustafsson, who batted in a deflected puck past Lyon at 2:42 for the temporary go-ahead goal. The play was initially reviewed but deemed legal, as Gustafsson upped his season-leading total to four in the process.
But with the home side commanding the bulk of play in the final frame, Yale tied it up again at 12:59, as Rob O'Gara beat Tirronen to knot things up at 2-all. That held all the way to overtime, where Merrimack and Yale traded chances until Izmirlian's game-winner came with 46 seconds to go.
Merrimack returns to action next Friday, Dec. 6, as the Warriors turn the page past a tough month of November and resume Hockey East play with a home-and-home series against Boston University starting at Lawler Rink. Puck drop is set for 7 p.m.