More than 2½ periods of frustration turned into one huge sigh of relief as top-seeded Eden Prairie scored three goals in the last 6 minutes, 29 seconds of the third period to escape with a 3-1 victory over defending champion Wayzata in the most anticipated game of Thursday's Class 2A boys' hockey quarterfinals at Xcel Energy Center.
After being stymied by Wayzata's Reid Waszczenko time after time, Eden Prairie finally solved the senior goaltender when defenseman Noah Deraney's slapshot from the point caromed off a Wayzata defender and over Waszczenko's glove hand, tying the score 1-1 at 10:31 of the third period.
It was Deraney's first goal of the season and it could not have come at a better time.
"I had a little chip on my shoulder from last year," Deraney said, referring to Eden Prairie's 2016 championship game loss to Wayzata. "I just wanted to contribute to my team any way I could. That was a good place to start."
The Eagles (22-4-2) cranked up the pressure after that and leaned on two Mr. Hockey finalists — forward Casey Mittelstadt and defenseman Nick Leivermann — for the game-winner.
Mittelstadt took a faceoff in the Wayzata end and pulled the puck back toward Leivermann, whose low wrist shot likely deflected off traffic in front and slipped through Waszczenko's five-hole for a 2-1 lead with 1:22 left in the third period.
Nolan Sullivan added an empty-net goal at 16:44 for the final score.
Mittelstadt said that, despite Waszczenko's 35-save effort for Wayzata (10-18-1), the Eagles were confident in the third period that they would find a way to score.
"We've kind of been a third-period team all year," he said. "We've got really good pace, and it's hard for teams to keep up with us for three periods. We've got a lot of character in the room and we were able to persevere."
Eden Prairie coach Lee Smith gave Waszczenko credit but told his team to keep the pressure on, feeling the Eagles would eventually score.
"Their goalie was doing such a great job and they were boxing out really well, but we just needed to keep going at 'em," Smith said. "We were doing the right things. We just couldn't get it by him. But our guys rallied and they were warriors down the stretch."