MANCHESTER, N.H. — Notre Dame needed to rally from a pair of two-goal deficits and weather a frenzied start in overtime to stay alive in the NCAA tournament’s Northeast Regional.
And with one whack of the stick by Anders Lee, the Fighting Irish went from surviving to advancing with a 4-3 win against Merrimack on Saturday night.
Lee swiped at a clearing pass and knocked it backward into the net past goalie Joe Cannata 5:18 into overtime, stunning Merrimack after the Warriors had dominated the first 5 minutes of the extra session.
“I swung at it and the next thing I know it was in the back of the net,” said Lee, whose goal in the second period got the Fighting Irish within 3-2.
The Irish (24-13-5) advanced to play New Hampshire in the regional final Sunday night for a spot in the Frozen Four.
Notre Dame controlled the third period and tied it on a goal by Billy Maday, but the Warriors (25-10-4) had the Irish scrambling for nearly all of the brief overtime, peppering goalie Mike Johnson with six shots before Notre Dame coach Jeff Jackson called a timeout.
“I just told our guys to calm down,” Jackson said.
The Irish regrouped and 18 seconds later, Lee got Notre Dame’s only shot of the overtime. Cannata slumped to the ice as Lee skated off and was swarmed by his teammates across the ice from the Notre Dame bench.
“They got the puck in. Our guy was wheeling it around. I’m not really sure what happened after that,” Merrimack defenseman Karl Stollery said. “I guess I’ll look at it later. I don’t really want to, though.”
Notre Dame was playing from behind most of the night. Merrimack led 2-0 in the first period and 3-1 in the second, but couldn’t get another shot past Johnson, who finished with 32 saves.
Cannata made 33 stops, but gave up some big rebounds and the Irish capitalized, keeping the game from getting out of hand. Maday pounced on the puck after it bounced off Cannata’s pads and poked it through to tie it 3-all at 5:32 of the third period.
The Warriors set a school record for wins and were in the NCAA tournament for the second time. They had plenty of fans make the 35-mile drive north to Manchester, but their magical season ended on Lee’s second goal.
Maday had a goal and an assist for the Irish. Ryan Flanigan led Merrimack with a goal and an assist.
Flanigan’s short-handed goal on a 2-on-1 with Stephane DaCosta put Merrimack up 2-0 with 4 minutes left in the first period. But the Irish got within 2-1 just 27 seconds later on a goal by Calle Ridderwall off a give-and-go with Maday.