ST. PAUL, Minn. — Notre Dame did it again.
With just 5.2 seconds left in their semifinal game against Michigan, the Fighting Irish got an improbable goal from captain Jake Evans to beat the Wolverines 4-3 and advance to Saturday’s national title game against Minnesota Duluth.
It was yet another last-second playoff victory for the Irish, who seem to have a habit of playing in these sorts of close, high-anxiety games lately.
Notre Dame coach Jeff Jackson said it best: “I think my heart is becoming calloused.”
Evans finished off a one-timer from linemate Cam Morrison that somehow found its way through the legs of both a Michigan defender as well as goalie Hayden Lavigne (25 saves).
“These tight games, obviously we want to keep piling up goals, but this time of year that’s not going to happen,” said Evans, who had two goals and an assist. “It’s a lot of fun because our team’s got so much confidence right now. When we’re down one, down two or getting a late goal, we’re a calm team. We’re a unit.”
After his goal, Evans immediately skated to the bench and jumped into the arms of his waiting teammates — echoing the celebrations that the Irish had two weeks ago in the NCAA East Regional. Notre Dame defeated Michigan Tech in overtime and got another last-minute goal against Providence to reach St. Paul.
Morrison has noticed his team’s penchant for comeback victories.
“Sometimes when we fall behind we have to step back and realize we have to play our game and get back to our type of play,” he said. “I feel like our coaches settled us down a little bit when things weren’t going the greatest. I think it’s just a matter of us refocusing and focusing on what we need to do as a team.”
The Irish had rallied from a 2-0 second-period deficit to tie it up at the second intermission. Andrew Oglevie scored a power-play goal from the point to give Notre Dame its first goal at 2:41 of the second before Evans made it 2-2 with a 4-on-4 tally from the high slot at 6:20.
Notre Dame finally took its first lead early in the third.
Cal Burke finished off a 2-on-2 opportunity following an outstanding pass from teammate Dylan Malmquist just 1:35 into the third period.
But Michigan chipped away to tie it up.
Michael Pastujov made it 3-3 at 14:38 when he got his own rebound and finally batted it home past Notre Dame goalie Cale Morris, who finished with 25 saves.
Michigan coach Mel Pearson thought the third period was his team’s best, despite the loss.
“Once they got the 3-2 lead I don’t know if they sat back or we just kicked it into another gear,” he said. “But that was our best period, even though we lost the period 2-1. It’s probably our best period. We out-attempted them 25-7. Out-chanced them. They just put the one or two they needed to put in.”
Tony Calderone and Dexter Dancs also scored for Michigan, which was appearing in its first Frozen Four since 2011.
“It’s a tough way to lose,” Pearson said. “It’s never easy to lose. I don’t know if there’s ever easy way to lose. It was a good play by them. But from the bench, it didn’t look like it was going to amount to much. I thought we were going to overtime.”
The Irish, meanwhile, get ready to play in the national title game for just the second time in program history. They’re more mature than the team that lost to Denver in the semifinals last season.
“Coming in to the Frozen Four last year, we didn’t really know what to expect,” Morrison said. “I feel like we were kind of star struck by the moment. But this year we have an older team and most of these guys have been there before, so we kind of knew what to expect coming in. Hopefully we can carry that to the final.”