It appeared that the NCAA semifinal game between the University of Minnesota-Duluth and Harvard was going to go to overtime, but Alex Iafallo had other ideas as he scored with less than 30 seconds remaining to give his team a 2-1 victory on Thursday night.
Iafallo scored on a deflection with 26.6 seconds remaining in the game, and he helped his team punch their ticket into the championship game on Saturday night at the United Center.
"It was a good pass by Joey (Anderson) when we kept it in there," Iafallo said of the play. "Willie Raskob and I do that play in practice all the time deflecting shots on goal, and it's just simple things like that that helped us get that goal."
Harvard goaltender Merrick Madsen was the tough luck loser for the Crimson, as he stopped 36 shots on goal. Minnesota-Duluth goaltender Hunter Miska stopped 39 shots and helped his team to a stunning victory.
The early stages of the game suggested that a goaltending battle was going to be the story of the day, as Madsen and Miska exchanged save after save. Early penalties to both teams helped put extra pressure on the netminders, but Madsen was especially active as he made several saves in a row in his crease to keep Harvard tied.
With five minutes remaining in the first period, another power play finally opened the door for the Crimson, and they scored to take the lead. Alexander Kerfoot skated through the zone and into the slot area, drawing several Bulldog defenders. That was all the opening he needed, as he fired a pass across the ice to Tyler Moy for the one-timer goal and a 1-0 lead for Harvard.
A little over three minutes later, Minnesota-Duluth seized back the momentum and tied things up. This time a face-off win by Dominic Toninato helped the play develop, and when the loose puck rolled into the slot, Joey Anderson hammered home a shot past Madsen to knot things up at 1-1, which would remain the score after 20 minutes of play.
That scoreline continued to hold throughout the second period, as both teams traded quality scoring opportunities and quality saves as the game remained tied. A big defensive stop by Carson Soucy helped keep things tied, as he raced back to break up a short-handed breakaway by Adam Fox early in the second period of play.
Goaltending continued to be the story in the third period as Miska made a pair of in-tight saves, but the Bulldogs also caught a huge break a short time later. After an initial save by Miska, Harvard forward Sean Malone hammered a loose puck into the back of the net, but the officials on the ice immediately waved off the goal.
The subsequent video review confirmed the call as the game remained tied at 1-1.
"At one point the goaltender had the puck under his glove, and in the official's mind, that's when the play was over," Harvard head coach Ted Donato said. "Through my Harvard-colored glasses, it looked like a good goal, but everyone is trying to do their best out there."
The game remained tied until the final minute, when Minnesota-Duluth stunned the Crimson and scored the go-ahead goal. On a shot by Willie Raskob, Iafallo deflected the puck in between Madsen’s pads, and the United Center erupted with cheers.
Harvard had several chances in the closing seconds, including a shot off the stick of Luke Esposito, but it rang loudly off the crossbar and the Bulldogs escaped with the victory.
With the win, Minnesota-Duluth will either face Denver or the University of Notre Dame in Saturday’s championship game, which will start at 7:00 p.m at the United Center.
"I think winning some of those close games early in the year and getting that confidence really helped us," Minnesota-Duluth head coach Scott Sandelin said. "We play in a difficult league, and those are the types of games that you are going to be in regularly."