PHILADELPHIA — Justin Holl and the Minnesota Gophers just wanted to get to overtime.
With nine seconds remaining in a 1-1 tie, Minnesota was tasked with defending a faceoff in its end, and North Dakota threatening on a power play.
Kyle Rau won the faceoff and led the charge into North Dakota’s zone, but he had his shot blocked by a defender.
Holl found the puck on the blade of his stick and delivered an improbable shorthanded buzzer-beater as Minnesota defeated North Dakota, 2-1, at the Wells Fargo Center Thursday night to advance to the national championship game.
Minnesota (28-6-6) will face Union (31-6-4) at 7:30 p.m. Saturday. Adam Wilcox, a Mike Richter Award finalist, made 36 saves in the victory. Zane Gothberg made 26 for North Dakota.
The goal was Holl’s first of the season.
“Most of us were just focused on killing the penalty and getting to overtime,” Holl said. “It just developed with five seconds left where I figured I’d jump in.”
The officials reviewed the goal and determined it crossed the goal line with 0.6 seconds remaining.
It was an ending reserved for the Final Four, not the Frozen Four, where hockey buzzer-beaters are improbable because the puck needs to cross the line completely before the horn sounds.
It was a stunning finish, one that left North Dakota (25-14-3) with a sickening feeling as the team exited the ice.
“If you walk away on the end of it we’re walking away on, it’s real important to know you left everything out there, and our guys did that,” North Dakota coach Dave Hakstol said. “It’s a bit of a numbing feeling to be walking away at this point in time on a good bounce of the puck our opponent took advantage of.
“It’s painful to have it end this way.”
It was almost certain the teams were headed for overtime, deadlocked for all but 32 seconds.
After more than 50 minutes of scoreless play, Minnesota scored at the 10:51 mark. Rau attempted a pair of shots and Gothberg made both saves, but he couldn’t stop Sam Warning from sweeping in and burying the rebound.
But North Dakota responded 32 seconds later, as Connor Gaarder charged into the Minnesota end and challenged Wilcox, managing to stuff his own rebound past the Gophers goaltender to tie the score.
From there, it was back to a stalemate for the final eight minutes before Holl scored his improbable goal.
“It was a hard-fought game, and I thought North Dakota played really well,” Minnesota coach Don Lucia said. “The penalty at the end of the game was huge. It looked like we were going to kill it, and then we jumped up on that three on two and no better time for Justin to score his first goal of the season.”
The game was the 291st meeting between the schools, a long-standing rivalry that festered in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association before Minnesota joined the Big Ten this season.
The teams certainly had each other figured out, playing in step for nearly the entire game.
“There’s just no secrets this time of year,” Hakstol said. “But amongst these two teams, you saw there’s no secrets. Nobody is trying to step outside their game and play differently.”
After a sluggish first period, Minnesota and North Dakota came out of the intermission charged up, but neither could break through in the second period.
The Gophers attacked hard but Gothberg responded with a flurry of impressive saves.
The best chance came at the 11:45 mark, after North Dakota was called for too many men on the ice. On the ensuing faceoff, which Minnesota won in the North Dakota zone, Rau, Hudson Fasching, and Mike Reilly all challenged Gothberg.
North Dakota nearly scored with five minutes left in the period when Michael Parks forced a turnover in the Minnesota zone and charged toward Wilcox. Parks’s shot was stopped and he tried again, this time backhanding his own rebound.
The puck fluttered away from Wilcox, but Drake Caggiula fumbled with it at his skates and couldn’t score with the net wide open.Anthony Gulizia can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @gulizia_a.
Correction: Because of an editing error, an earlier version of this story misidentified the winner of the Mike Richter Award for the best goalie in college hockey. UMass Lowell’s Connor Hellebuyck won the award.