MANCHESTER, N.H. -- Halfway through the second period, things were not looking good for Notre Dame.
The Irish snatched defeat from the jaws of victory in Saturday's second NCAA Northeast Regional semifinal Saturday at SNHU Arena, as junior Anders Bjork scored the last two of three unanswered goals en route to a 3-2 victory over Minnesota.
“I’m very pleased with the comeback effort,” Notre Dame head coach Jeff Jackson said. “It showed a lot of character from our guys.”
Bjork scored the game-winner on a power play 8:42 into the third period, picking up a loose puck left in the right circle after Minnesota's Eric Schierhorn saved junior Jake Evans’ shot. It was his team-leading 21st goal and 49th point of the season.
“They have great instincts and great puck skills, and he’s done that all season long for us,” Jackson said. “You don’t win without your best players playing at their best at the most important moments of the year, so our goaltender (Cal Petersen) and Anders, Oglevie and Evans, all those guys contributed in big ways.”
The win lifts the Irish to a date with fellow Hockey East foe, second-seeded UMass Lowell in Sunday's 3:30 p.m. regional final. The two teams split a pair of 4-1 contests back in November before the River Hawks downed Notre Dame in last Friday's league semifinal at TD Garden, 5-1.
Notre Dame, which improved to 22-11-5 on the season with the victory, advanced to the Frozen Four in 2008 and 2011. The Irish downed Merrimack and New Hampshire in Manchester in the latter year.
Coincidentally, the River Hawks also have a strong track record in the Queen City as it was where their 2013 Frozen Four run began.
“We just need to show up. Our team came to life in the middle of the second period,” Jackson said. “I think last week was an anomaly to me because that wasn’t the team I’ve seen over the last eight weeks, and I think we were mesmerized by the moment never having played in a big venue like that before.”
Against a goaltender as talented as Petersen, a fast start would be beneficial for the Gophers. Senior Connor Reilly picked a great time to score his first goal of the season and in 38 games, sneaking a shot from in tight through Petersen’s five-hole, following a feed from sophomore Brent Gates.
The score would stayed through the first period in which the Gophers held a 14-9 shot advantage. Minnesota sophomore Eric Schierhorn held his own in the other net, making a big stop on Notre Dame’s third-leading scorer Jake Evans, who sailed a one-timer on goal from the left wing.
A quick power-play goal just 30 seconds into the second doubled Minnesota’s lead as senior Vinni Lettieri finished off junior Leon Bristedt’s cross-crease pass.
None of that ultimately mattered as the Irish made their biggest offensive surge of the night before second period’s end to tie the score at 2-2, scoring twice in a 56-second span. Bjork scored each of the game's final two goals.
“I thought we played well in the second period, but it was just one of those where we get hemmed in one shift and we’re looking to make a chance, and they caught us,” Minnesota head coach Don Lucia said. “Then, they scored right after that.
“That’s what great players do.”
Sophomore Andrew Oglevie got Notre Dame on the board at the 14:39 mark as he took Petersen’s feed down the right wing and scored his 20th goal of the season on a high wrister that bounced off the crossbar and past Schierhorn.
Petersen, who made 13 of his 31 saves in the first period, has three assists on the season and in his career.
In the blink of an eye, the game was tied. Evans set up both of Bjork's goals, the first of which came with Schierhorn out of position for an easy tap-in after a strong passing play with 4:37 to play in the second.
“We definitely got momentum after the first goal and got some more life on the bench,” Bjork said. “I think it just showed how guys were stepping up. Cam Morrison and Jake Evans made great plays and I just happened to be in the right place at the right time.”