ST. PAUL – Yet another close game for Notre Dame, and yet again it went their way.
Their reward will be facing another team that is no stranger to close games themselves, which means we are in for quite a championship game.
For the fifth straight game, the Fighting Irish won in the waning seconds (if you count overtime) as Jake Evans scored with 5.2 seconds left in Justin Holl-like fashion for a 4-3 victory over the Michigan Wolverines on Thursday night at Xcel Energy Center.
In fitting fashion, Notre Dame head coach Jeff Jackson decided not to give an opening statement at the postgame press conference; instead, he let his players do the talking.
“It’s all to do with these guys,” he said, referring to Evans and Andrew Oglevie sitting to his left.
In another tight postseason game, the Irish didn’t let a second-period two-goal deficit faze them, and they responded to rally for a win for the third time in the NCAA Tournament.
“These tight games are, obviously, you want to just keep piling up goals, but they’re not going to happen this time of year,” Evans said. “And it’s a lot of fun because our team has so much confidence right now.
“And no one’s getting angry or down; everyone’s staying up. And it’s been a lot of fun.”
Despite being up a goal at first intermission and tied at second intermission, first-year Michigan head coach Mel Pearson didn’t think his team was playing their best hockey until the third period.
“Once they got the 3-2 lead I don’t know if they sat back or we just kicked it into another gear. But that was our best period,” Pearson said. “[Notre Dame] just put the one or two they needed to put in.”
Immediately after senior forwards Tony Calderone and Dexter Dancs concluded their portion of the press conference and stood up to leave, Pearson stood up as well and gave his departing players goodbye hugs before sitting back down.
“The seniors are not only good hockey players, they’re tremendous people, good students,” Pearson said. “They represent Michigan in the right way. And I’m very proud of those guys.”
The first period’s lone goal belonged to Michigan, and once again it was their tremendous first line coming through. Calderone scored his team-leading 25th goal of the season, throwing in a wrist shot from the left circle faceoff dot. Both of his linemates had assists on the goal.
The Wolverines wasted no time in going up 2-0 early in the second as Dancs scored on a funny bounce. It was the largest deficit of the tournament so far for the Irish, but they didn’t stay down for long, tying the game on goals by Andrew Oglevie and Evans in the next 6:03. The key to that was maintaining focus.
“Just kind of make sure our spirits are still high, and everyone knows that we can do this and we still believe,” Oglevie said. “We’ve had some unlucky bounces go on for us throughout the year. And I think we know how to handle our adversity this time of year.”
Notre Dame took their first lead at the 1:35 mark of the third when Cal Burke got a feed from Dylan Malmquist, split two Michigan defenders and buried it behind goaltender Hayden Lavigne (25 saves).
Time was beginning to run out for the Wolverines, but they would not stop pounding away in the final minutes and they were finally rewarded on a goal by Michael Pastujov, who grabbed two of his own rebounds before finally going top-shelf to tie it with 5:22 to go.
“I think it shows our depth,” Calderone said, referring to the team’s third line getting on the scoresheet after his own line factored in the first two goals of the game-and most of the team’s points on the season. “I think a lot of people, when they talk about us, talk about how we lacked that depth. But, the goal coming from Mike Pastujov like that, just shows that.”
Just when overtime seemed inevitable, the Irish came from one end of the ice to the other and Evans won it with just mere seconds left, mirroring the finish of the 2014 Frozen Four semifinal between North Dakota and Minnesota.
Cale Morris made 25 saves for the Fighting Irish.
Notre Dame, which is appearing in their first championship game since 2008 and for just the second time ever, will take on a Minnesota-Duluth team that beat them in the 2011 Frozen Four. Ironically, this year the Irish helped UMD get into the NCAA Tournament in the first place in a mess of complicated Pairwise scenarios. Does Jackson feel that Bulldogs head coach Scott Sandelin owes him one?
“It’s funny how that happened, but there was a lot of things that happened that night that contributed to that, and Scott already told me he owed me a beer,” Jackson said. “I guess it’s just coincidental that we’re going to compete for the national championship on Saturday.”
Gametime will be 6:30 PM CT.
MICH goal at 8:19: Tony Calderone (25). Assisted by Dexter Dancs (16) and Cooper Marody (35).
MICH goal at :17: Dancs (12). Assisted by Calderone (20) and Joseph Cecconi (27).
ND power-play goal at 2:41: Andrew Oglevie (14). Assisted by Jake Evans (32) and Jordan Gross (19).
ND goal at 6:20: Evans (12). Assisted by Gross (20).
ND goal at 1:35: Cal Burke (14). Assisted by Dylan Malmquist (11) and Oglevie (24).
MICH goal at 14:38: Michael Pastujov (5). Assisted by Jack Becker (7) and Nick Pastujov (11).
ND goal at 19:54: Evans (13). Assisted by Cam Morrison (14) and Jack Jenkins (10).
Power plays: MICH 0-3, ND 1-2.
Shots on goal: MICH 28, ND 29.