MANCHESTER, N.H. — It all ended in a flash.
Just over five minutes into overtime Saturday night, Merrimack’s Brendan Ellis circled behind the net, but Notre Dame’s Anders Lee swiped the puck off Ellis’ stick, and it shot off Merrimack goaltender Joe Cannata’s pads and into the net.
Notre Dame’s 4-3 victory sent it into the Northeast Regional final, where it will play New Hampshire.
“I credit Merrimack for playing a great game, and we were fortunate that our guys never said never and battled back to win the game,” Notre Dame coach Jeff Jackson said.
Going into overtime with the score tied at 3-3, Merrimack bombarded the Notre Dame net and goaltender Mike Johnson was forced to make save after save in desperation.
The Irish rallied from a 3-1 deficit, first with Lee scoring in the second period. His shot from the blue line bounced off Cannata’s glove, off the crossbar, and in the net to make the score 3-2.
Notre Dame finally got its legs in the third period and generated some consistent pressure from the perimeter on Cannata and outshot the Warriors 17-4 in the third period.
Finally, Riley Sheahan ripped a hard wrist shot on Cannata, who left a rebound for the driving Billy Maday to jam the puck behind Cannata to tie the game at 3-3.
“We’ve been through a lot of adversity this year and been through enough to know that if we were down one goal or two goals, we were still in the game,” said Maday.
The Warriors went into the locker room after the first period with a 2-1 lead, having outshot the Fighting Irish 15-11.
Merrimack was ready to go early, outskating Notre Dame in the first few minutes and owning the majority of puck possession.
Goaltenders Johnson and Cannata were poised and tracked the puck well early.
Johnson stopped hard net drives from Merrimack’s Elliot Sheen and Stephane Da Costa, and Cannata robbed Notre Dame’s T.J. Tynan and Sheahan from close range, leaving no rebounds.
Merrimack took a 1-0 lead on the power play after Notre Dame defenseman Stephen Johns was sent to the penalty box for boarding.
Merrimack’s Ryan Flanigan continued his hot streak after an amazing Hockey East tournament, and made an impact early, launching a hard shot on Johnson who left a rebound. Kyle Bigos was camped out in front and after multiple tries jammed in the loose puck for his first goal of the playoffs.
“You can see from the tidbits that you get to see how special these student-athletes are, and it humbles me quite a bit to see how hard they work,” Merrimack coach Mark Dennehy said.
Flanigan produced for the Warriors yet again, taking the puck into the ND zone on a two-on-one break with Costa for a short-handed bid. Da Costa slipped the puck over to Flanigan, who roofed the puck just under the crossbar for a 2-0 lead.
Notre Dame answered back with a goal a mere 27 seconds later with Maday finding Calle Ridderwall open in the slot to rip the puck past Cannata to get on the board.
Opening the second period, Merrimack played with fast intensity and won most of the one-on-one battles, while Notre Dame failed to match.
“We’ve always felt that we had a good enough team, and we’ve been able to come together in past couple of years and climb the ladder,” Merrimack captain Adam Ross said.
Merrimack took a 3-1 lead on a Notre Dame turnover deep in its zone, with Shawn Bates collecting the puck and finding Rhett Bly, who slipped it under Johnson.
After the Irish rallied, the teams traded chances, with Cannata making nice blocker saves and Johnson robbing Chris Barton on the doorstep with a spectacular split save.
Both goaltenders held out long enough to send the game to overtime.