ORONO – The University of Maine Black Bears forechecked their hearts out, and kept shooting.

And even against a stellar goalie like Merrimack’s Joe Cannata, the goals did come.

Maine got two second-period scores to come back and beat Merrimack 2-1 in the first round of the Hockey East playoffs Friday night, before 3,904 at Alfond Arena.

Maine and Merrimack will play again tonight at 7 p.m. in this best-of-3 series. The Black Bears (21-11-3) can reach the Hockey East Final Four (and likely the NCAA Tournament) with a win tonight.

Merrimack (18-11-7) needs to win tonight to force a third game on Sunday.

“We didn’t play hard enough,” Warriors Coach Mark Dennehy said. “We did a lot of running around.”

Maine outshot the Warriors 43-21.

“We needed to get pucks to the net and that’s what we did,” said Spencer Abbott, whose long pass set up Maine’s first goal, by Joey Diamond.

Kyle Beattie scored the game-winner at 12:04 of the second period. Maine goalie Dan Sullivan made 20 saves, to Cannata’s 41.

The game featured several hard hits, not all of them legal. Of the 55 total penalty minutes, 32 of them were for roughing, late hits and unsportsmanlike conduct.

“We knew it was going to be a battle,” Diamond said.

Maine trailed 1-0 before Diamond tied it. Merrimack was on a line change when Diamond came onto the ice. The puck was in the Maine zone, and Diamond skated unnoticed outside the Merrimack zone.

Abbott got control of the puck and heard voices.

“The whole bench was yelling at me,” Abbott said. “I looked up and Joe was on a breakaway.”

Abbott fired the pass to him. Diamond came in, froze Cannata and roofed it over his glove at 7:50, tying the game and causing Alfond to erupt.

Maine continued to control the possessions. Beattie took the puck from the blue line and sprinted around to the right circle. With almost a sideways angle to the net, Beattie shot into a crowd, and past Cannata for a 2-1 lead.

“(Adam Shemansky) was in front of the net, distracting (Cannata) and I was able to just throw it over his glove,” Beattie said.

In the third period, Merrimack picked up its pace, but could not beat Sullivan. On a one-timer halfway through the period, Sullivan slid a pad over and blocked it.

Cannata was pulled with 1:31 left. Mike Collins, who scored in the first period, got off one last shot with 30 seconds left and Sullivan swallowed it up.

Sullivan has not allowed an even-strength goal in his last three games.

Merrimack took a 1-0 lead following a 5-minute major penalty against Maine’s Jon Swavely for elbowing to the head (Swavely was also ejected) at 11:24. Collins scored on the power play at 15:33.

But Maine kept coming with the pressure, and finally broke through.

“We expected it would be a low-scoring, tight-checking game,” Maine Coach Tim Whitehead said, “and (tonight) will be even tougher, without a doubt.”

NOTES: Merrimack brought three fans buses, with 130 students for the series. In other Hockey East games Friday, UMass-Lowell beat Providence 3-2 in overtime to even their series, New Hampshire topped Boston University 3-2 in double overtime, and Boston College defeated Massachusetts 2-1.

Staff Writer Kevin Thomas can be contacted at 791-6411 or at:

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Twitter: KevinThomasPPH