Time was ticking down on Thursday night and North Dakota was throwing everything at Boston University goaltender Matt O’Connor.
The squad from Grand Forks had battled back from a 4-1 deficit and pulled to within a goal. Not only that, but North Dakota goaltender Zane McIntyre was on the bench for an extra attacker and the team was doing everything it could to pull even.
But BU captain Matt Grzelcyk threw the puck up from the corner and senior center Cason Hohmann, who had no stick, won the puck and got it to Jack Eichel. Eichel let the puck fly toward the empty net, thinking the shot was wide. But it found its way in with 19 seconds remaining to seal the 5-3 victory at TD Garden, and the Terriers were on their way to Saturday’s national championship game against Hockey East rival Providence.
“[Grzelcyk] makes a great play in the corner to move the puck up,” said Eichel, who had a pair of goals and an assist. “[Hohmann] goes in there, I think he’s battling three guys, and he is able to make a great play. I don’t even think he had a stick in his hands. The puck just squirted out to me, I happened to be over there. I just tried to put it on net. To be honest, I thought it was going wide and I think it hit a divot in the ice and rolled in. It was a lucky play, but [Grzelcyk and Hohmann] made a spectacular play in the corner to ice the game.”
The game started very well for BU (28-7-5).
Eichel pounced on the puck during a power play and backhanded it from the left circle high into the net at 4:59 of the opening period.
Midway through the frame, North Dakota had a great chance when junior left wing Drake Caggiula was open at the top of the crease. But O’Connor (36 saves) made a left pad save to deny him.
The Terriers added another tally with only 48 seconds left in the first.
Freshman defenseman Brandon Hickey made it happen. First, he drew the penalty to freshman right wing Tucker Poolman at 17:51. Then, he potted the goal on the man advantage. Hohmann, who had the puck beneath the left circle, relayed a pass to Hickey at the left point. Hickey’s one-timer blew by McIntyre (23 saves) and it was 2-0.
North Dakota cut the deficit in half during a power play in the second period. Just 44 seconds in, sophomore center Luke Johnson beat O’Connor on a shot from below the right circle to the short side.
But the next two goals belonged to the Terriers. At 11:20, Eichel dished a pass to freshman left wing A.J. Greer, who beat McIntyre on a one-timer from the top of the right circle.
Sophomore defenseman Doyle Somerby picked a fine time to score his first goal of the season when he flung a puck at the net from the far left circle and it sailed through the five-hole of McIntyre at 13:10 to make it 4-1.
But North Dakota roared back in the third. O’Connor went out to play the puck and lost track of it, which allowed a shorthanded layup for sophomore defenseman Troy Stecher at 12:10.
Then the Terriers were called for too many men on the ice and senior center Connor Gaarder made them pay with 3:43 left to close the gap to a goal.
But with McIntyre at the bench, giving North Dakota a five-on-four advantage with matching minors in the box, Eichel came to the rescue as he has so often, and BU is headed to the title game for the first time since 2009.
“It’s impossible to put perspective on a season [so soon], so I won’t try and do that,” said North Dakota coach Dave Hakstol. “I thought overall, I liked 50 minutes of our game. I didn’t think we managed the puck very well in the first 8-10 minutes. [BU] played a good game, they made plays. I want to make sure I give them a lot of credit. I always kind of look from within and we didn’t manage the puck real well in the first few minutes of the game. Honestly, I thought bounces were a little hard for us to come by.”