ST. PAUL, Minn. — Down a goal and heading into the final period of their loss to Minnesota Duluth in the national championship game, Notre Dame was confident that it could find a way to come back.
After all, in five previous postseason games, the Irish had managed to find a way to win one-goal games in spite of being dead even with opponents in third-period scoring.
Defenseman Jordan Gross, who had the overtime game-winning goal against Michigan Tech in the Midwest Regional, said it had been a matter of “getting good bounces and finding a way to break down teams.”
Against Penn State in the Big Ten tournament, Jack Jenkins scored at 19:29 in the third to give the Irish a 3-2 win. In the conference title game against Ohio State, Cam Morrison scored at 9:23 in overtime, another 3-2 win.
In the Midwest Regional, Notre Dame beat Michigan Tech on Gross’s goal at 16:24 in overtime after the Huskies tied that one with just over a minute to go in regulation. In their 2-1 win over Providence to advance to the Frozen Four, Dylan Malmquist scored the game winner with 27 seconds left in the third.
And then on Thursday, Notre Dame’s semifinal game against Michigan was six seconds away from overtime when Jake Evans broke a 3-3 tie and sent the Fighting Irish to the championship game.
“I think we’ve been resilient all year,” said goaltender Cale Morris. “We’ve found a way to get it done time in and time out.” In tonight’s game, there was no reason to think differently.
“Going into that third period,” said Morris, “I think everyone believed in one another that we were going to be able to pull it off.”
After going down 2-0 in the first period, Notre Dame bounced back with a second-period, power-play goal but was badly outshot in the second, 18-8. Still, the Irish were optimistic with 20 minutes left.
“There was a lot of positivity going through that room and we were excited for that third,” said team captain Jake Evans. “Guys did a really good job, but Duluth did a better job and really didn’t give us much.”
That seems to be the consensus, that as hard as Notre Dame played, the Irish couldn’t overcome Duluth’s smothering defense. The Bulldogs had the fourth-best defense in the country this season, allowing 2.09 goals per game.
More importantly, however, Minnesota Duluth outscored opponents 47-33 and was plus-14 in third periods this season.
“We needed to try to tie the game in the second, because once you get to the third period, they’re a shut-down team,” said coach Jeff Jackson. “They shut you down and don’t allow much through the neutral zone.”
“We thought that we were going to get the tying goal,” said Evans, “but we just couldn’t find a way tonight.”