Almost an amazing comeback for North Dakota, but hole was too deep

North Dakota almost overcame a three-goal deficit but fell short (photo: Jim Rosvold).

BOSTON — When Connor Gaarder scored on the power play with 3:43 left, it seemed possible, almost probable, that North Dakota would complete a dramatic comeback.

Boston University led the Frozen Four semifinal 4-1 entering the third period, but a mistake by BU goaltender Matt O’Connor and Gaarder’s tally, courtesy of a too-many-men penalty, swung momentum North Dakota’s way.

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Things weren’t settled until Jack Eichel’s long-range, empty-net goal with 18.3 seconds left sealed a 5-3 win.

North Dakota coach Dave Hakstol said a strong third period gave his players hope.

“[There was] no question what our third period would be like,” he said. “I mean, that’s a deep hole to come out of, let’s be honest. But I don’t think anybody — I don’t think there was any second thought about it.

“Our guys have been resilient and done that all year long. I had no question in my mind that we would tie this game up as we got into that last minute, minute and a half.”

North Dakota had no quit in it despite the large third-period deficit, said Troy Stecher, who took advantage of O’Connor’s poor handling of the puck by the side of his net for a short-handed goal that drew UND to within two midway through the third.

“We’ve kind of been the same team all year,” said Stecher. “[We] never had any doubt in our minds or any quitting. We knew we were doing the things the way and we needed to continue [playing] to our strengths and good things were going to happen.”

“It was a funny game in a lot of ways,” said Boston University coach David Quinn. “You’re up 4-1, seven minutes to go, eight minutes to go, and you think you go on the power play and you think everything’s in good shape, and your goalie lets in a goal that he hasn’t let in all year. And a too many men on the ice penalty that we haven’t had all year, and then it’s 4-3 and we’re hanging on for dear life.

“Things that haven’t happened to us all year happened in the last seven minutes.”

“North Dakota is a great team, and they came after us with everything they had in the third period,” said BU senior forward Cason Hohmann. “And we weathered the storm.”

A slow start dug the hole for North Dakota, and its third period push wasn’t enough.

“I thought overall I liked 50 minutes of our game,” said Hakstol. “I didn’t think we managed the puck very well in the first eight to 10 minutes of the game.

“And honestly, you know, I thought bounces were a little hard for us to come by in this hockey game until Troy got the one bounce on the short-handed goal. So if I could change one thing, it would be some of our execution in the first few minutes of the game.

“Beyond that, I’m not sure there’s a whole lot more that we can ask out of our players tonight.”