From Mel Pearson’s vantage point, the play appeared relatively harmless.
“It didn’t look like it was going to amount to much,’’ the Michigan coach said, describing Notre Dame’s rush toward the Wolverines’ net in the final seconds of Thursday’s NCAA semifinal. “I thought the game was going to overtime.’’
But Notre Dame has made a habit recently of winning games in dramatic fashion, and the top-ranked Fighting Irish added to their lore with a 4-3 victory at Xcel Energy Center. Jake Evans took a pass from Cam Morrison, charged down the slot and beat Wolverines goalie Hayden Lavigne with 3.7 seconds remaining, putting the Irish into Saturday’s championship game against Minnesota Duluth.
The Irish (28-9-2) had to rally from an early deficit, falling behind 2-0 on a fluky goal that struck a Notre Dame defenseman and ricocheted past goaltender Cale Morris.
They maintained their composure behind a magnificent performance from Evans, who finished with two goals and an assist to lead Notre Dame into the title game for the first time since 2008. The Irish never have won an NCAA title.
The unlucky bounce happened 17 seconds into the second period, when Dexter Dancs sent the puck toward the net from the left corner and off the shoulder of Irish defenseman Dennis Gilbert. Notre Dame began its comeback with a power-play goal from Andrew Oglevie at 2:41 of the second period, followed by Evans’ first score at 6:20.
Cal Burke gave the Irish their first lead at 1:35 of the third before the fourth-ranked Wolverines (22-15-3) tied it 3-3 on Michael Pastujov’s goal at 14:38. That set the stage for Evans’ last-minute rush, which marked the fifth game in a row that Notre Dame has won in overtime or in the final minute of the third period.
“We’ve had some unlucky bounces go against us,’’ said Oglevie, who finished with a goal and an assist. “I think we know how to handle adversity this time of year. We’ve got a mature group. Our message was just to go out there and take the game to them, and I think we did a good job of that in the second period.’’
The loss ended the Wolverines’ quest for their 10th NCAA title and left Dancs in tears. Michigan outshot Notre Dame 11-5 in the third period but could not overcome a second-period lapse.
Michigan took a 1-0 lead at 8:19 of the first period on Tony Calderone’s wrist shot from the left circle. It doubled its lead on Dancs’ goal.
The Irish outshot Michigan 15-7 in the second period, and Morris allowed only one goal in the final 39:43. He finished with 25 saves, while Lavigne also stopped 25 shots.
“It’s heartbreaking,’’ said Dancs, a senior. “Coming into this season, there weren’t a lot of people that believed in us. But this team is so close. We had so much fun. To see it end like that is obviously tough.’’
Michigan coach Mel Pearson said his team did not begin playing with the urgency it needed until the third period.
Evans said he went hard to the net on the final play and credited Morrison for creating the goal with grit and strength. The victory marked the fifth consecutive one-goal triumph for Notre Dame.
Irish coach Jeff Jackson has been joking about those last-minute heroics, but Evans wasn’t bothered.
“He told us again tonight he’s getting scar tissue on his heart,’’ Evans said, laughing. “I’m not going to apologize.”