CHESTNUT HILL, Mass. — Notre Dame has been battling a reputation as an outsider this season.
In Hockey East, the Fighting Irish is definitely the new kid on the block.
But on Sunday, No. 11 Notre Dame proclaimed its arrival loud and clear, out-muscling No. 2 Boston College to claim a spot in next week’s semifinals with a 4-2 win in Game 3 of the Hockey East quarterfinals at the Conte Forum.
Bryan Rust scored two goals for the Irish, both assisted by T.J. Tynan, while Steven Summerhays dazzled in net with 30 saves, preventing the Eagles from advancing to TD Garden for the first time in a decade.
The Irish were business-like in their approach and clinical in their execution, clogging the neutral zone and forcing the Eagles to the perimeter, especially in the third period where a hushed crowd looked on as the Eagles were baffled by the Irish backcheckers.
The win was a culmination of Notre Dame’s second-half run that was built slowly, but has come into full view, something the coaches and players both knew was possible once the team got healthy.
“We didn’t have the regular season that we wanted,” Rust said. “But to come into such a great league and to be one of the last four teams in the league standing, it speaks volumes about our program and how far we’ve come.”
Bouncing back from Saturday’s loss, Irish coach Jeff Jackson called Sunday’s effort smarter.
“Good puck decisions make us a better team,” Jackson said. “Our transition game is all based on making good plays with the puck, defending, then making [more] good plays with the puck.”
Far from unsung was the play of Summerhays, whose performance robbed a number of point-blank chances for the Eagles and preserved a tenuous 3-2 lead for the Irish in the third period.
“The way he’s been playing for the last few weeks, it’s a part of the reason why we’re going to Boston Garden,” Jackson beamed. “He’s our backbone.”
Summerhays, like the rest of the Irish defense, was tested early in the game, as the Eagles opened up on the front foot, taking the lead with a Kevin Hayes goal in the opening five minutes off a giveaway in the Irish zone.
The ensuing burst from BC kept the Irish on the back foot until the 11:31 mark when Stephen Johns, continuing an exceptional playoff campaign, jammed the puck through Thatcher Demko (19 saves) to knot the game at 1-1. It was Johns’ third goal of the series.
The goal set the Irish back on course, as they wound up outshooting the Eagles 10-7 and winning a majority of faceoffs. The Irish continued to effectively contain BC’s chances to the outside, limiting the Eagles’ opportunities in transition.
Summerhays opened the second period with two incredible saves. The first, a leaping stop to his right forcing an Austin Cangelosi shot wide, followed seconds later by another denial. Bill Arnold was camped on the back door, but Summerhays slid across to block the net with his right pad.
Eventually, the Eagles would get to Summerhays, albeit on a 5-on-3 power play.
While on a penalty kill at 7:53, Tynan, in an ill-advised move, ripped down Demko skating into the crease on a forecheck – an easy goalie interference call. The Eagles quickly made him pay with Patrick Brown batting in an Arnold back-door try just 12 seconds later.
The Eagles appeared to have surged into the lead on a Brown stuff-in try midway through the period, but it was ultimately waved off due to a goaltender interference penalty that apparently was called before the initial shot.
With the reversal in fortunes, the Irish regained their defensive composure, fending off another spate of BC chances before counterpunching on the offensive end.
In the waning moments of the period, Tynan found redemption.
After picking up a pass in neutral ice from Shayne Taker, Tynan fed a gorgeous give-and-go to Rust, who chipped it past Demko glove side, giving the Irish the lead with just four ticks left in the second period.
“It’s one of those plays we work on in practice every day, every week,” Rust said. “To see it work in the game to a ‘T’ was pretty nice.”
It was then up to the defense to hold the fort, and backed by the play of Summerhays, the Irish did that and then some.
The anxiety in the stands continued to grow with each passing minute. Each time BC’s leading scorer Johnny Gaudreau touched the puck, a smattering of maroon-and-gold supporters urged him on to squeeze just one more goal through, but he never got a clean look, swarmed by a persistent Notre Dame backcheck or knocked off the puck entirely.
Ultimately, Gaudreau’s bid to top Paul Kariya’s Hockey East record for consecutive games with at least a point fell one game short at 31.
With less than two minutes to go, Jeff Costello provided the dagger, after a turnover forced by Steve Fogarty sprang Costello free on a breakaway, burying the puck five-hole to put the Irish up 4-2.
“The one thing I always get concerned about is that we play too tentative, that we play on our heels,” Jackson noted, adding that the composure was superb. “[Our] seniors were all instrumental in that last period.”
Meanwhile, for Boston College, it’s another long layoff – two weeks until the NCAA tournament begins.
“The locker room is just crushed, but I thought our team played well,” Eagles coach Jerry York said. “We competed really hard, had numerous opportunities to score goals. When you look at the chances we had… you’ve got to give Summerhays a tremendous amount of credit there. He was the difference in the game, from my perspective.”
“Victory March” will be played at TD Garden for the very first time next Friday, announcing the arrival of the Irish.
Bucking tradition, it wasn’t sung in the Notre Dame locker room on Friday after their Game 1 win.
“The job’s not done,” Johns said then.
But what about tonight?
“Nice and loud,” Rust smiled.