CHICAGO — Alex Iafallo had just knocked in the go-ahead goal for Minnesota Duluth with 26.6 seconds remaining when the tension really mounted.
There was a scramble in front of the net and two potential tying shots hitting the crossbar. Once the final buzzer sounded, the Bulldogs could finally celebrate.
Iafallo tipped in Willie Raskob’s shot to lift Minnesota Duluth to a 2-1 victory over Harvard in the Frozen Four semifinals Thursday night.
A rather slow game ended in spectacular fashion when Raskob took a pass from Joey Anderson and fired the puck toward the slot. Iafallo directed it between Merrick Madsen’s pads to break the tie.
“It was a good pass by Joey,” Iafallo said. “We kept it in there at the blue line. And that was pretty much the key to the goal. And Raskob made a good play. We do it in practice all the time. So simple things like that, getting the puck to the net. Just had to shovel it in.”
The Crimson nearly spoiled the celebration. A flurry in front of the net ended with Harvard’s Luke Esposito hitting the crossbar with four seconds remaining.
That sent the Bulldogs (28-6-7) to their third championship game and their first since the 2011 team brought home the program’s lone title. They will face top-seeded Denver on Saturday night after the Pioneers cruised to a 6-1 victory over Notre Dame in the second semifinal.
“You see 26 seconds and you think your season comes down to this,” Raskob said. “It was pretty crazy. They had two huge chances, hit that crossbar. The hockey gods for some reason were on our side today. I’m glad they were.”
For Harvard, it was simply an agonizing finish.
Esposito said he knew the far side of the net would be open. He didn’t want the shot to get blocked, so he went high — a tad too high, it turned out. Instead of overtime, the season ended on a wild note.
“Not the way you expect it to end,” Esposito said. “Not the way you expect any of this to end, but especially like that. It seems like there’s a period left or something like that.”
Anderson scored in the first period. Hunter Miska stopped 39 shots, and Minnesota Duluth improved to 16-1-3 in its last 20 games.
The Bulldogs also stopped Harvard’s 16-game win streak and 18-game unbeaten run.
Tyler Moy scored his 22nd goal for the Crimson (28-6-2). Madsen made 36 stops, but Harvard came up short in its 13th Frozen Four — and first since 1994.
Tops in the nation in scoring, Harvard grabbed a 1-0 lead at 15:00 in the first period. Moy, deep in the left circle, took a cross ice pass from Alexander Kerfoot and fired the puck into the left side of the net on a power play.
Minnesota Duluth tied it at 18:24 when Anderson sent a 50-foot screened shot past Madsen after Dominic Toninato won the faceoff.
But the game slowed to a crawl after that, with neither team generating many scoring opportunities.
Harvard had one at 5:41 of the third when Sean Malone knocked in a rebound. But the whistle had already blown.
About 2 1/2 minutes later, Minnesota Duluth’s Adam Johnson stormed in and fired a shot from the right crease that Madsen blocked with his left pad but could not cover.
Harvard coach Ted Donato thought the puck crossed the line before the whistle sounded on Malone’s goal. But didn’t exactly launch a strong protest.
“They went to the replay to try to get it correctly,” he said. “So obviously through my Harvard-colored glasses, it looked like a good goal. But it’s — everybody’s trying to do their best out there.”