BOSTON — Freshman Jack Eichel tallied three points, including a pair of goals, to help lead Boston University to the program’s 11th NCAA championship game with a 5-3 victory against North Dakota in a Frozen Four semifinal on Thursday night at TD Garden.
BU improved to 28-7-5 and will face Providence on Saturday in an all-Hockey East title tilt.
Eichel opened the game with his 25th goal of the season and finished with an empty-netter for his 70th point of the year. He also assisted on freshman A.J. Greer’s second-period strike. Senior Cason Hohmann recorded a pair of helpers while freshman Brien Diffley posted the second two-assist game of his collegiate career. Freshman Brandon Hickey joined sophomore Doyle Somerby as BU blue liners who lit the lamp.
Junior Matt O’Connor made 36 saves between the pipes, including 27 in the final 40 minutes. Sophomore Robbie Baillargeon joined juniors Matt Grzelcyk, Danny O’Regan and Ahti Oksanen with one assist apiece. Ten different Terriers had at least one point on Thursday night.
It was a wild finish, as North Dakota (29-10-3) nearly erased a three-goal third-period deficit. UND outshot BU 14-7 in the final frame but the Terriers remained resiliant and Eichel’s long-distance empty-netter sealed an eighth consecutive victory.
Oksanen was the Terriers’ top player through the first four minutes and he drew the penalty that led to the game’s first goal. The Finnish forward stayed on the ice and was in front of Zane McIntyre (23 saves) as a shot came in from the point. He backhanded the puck towards open ice on the left side, and O’Regan did well to knock it away from a UND defender and to the stick of Eichel, who backhanded the puck into the wide-open net.
The Terriers controlled play in the early going and held a 7-2 lead in shots through the first 13 minutes. Play shifted towards the BU end of the ice, however, and O’Connor was called upon to make two saves from point-blank range to help keep the Terriers on top.
Hickey drew a boarding call late in the opening frame and took advantage on the ensuing power play. Hohmann dished the puck back to Hickey at the left point and his blast had eyes through McIntyre’s five-hole and into the back of the net for the freshman’s sixth marker of the year. Baillargeon picked up the secondary assist on the goal.
North Dakota began the second stanza on the power play and capitalized just 44 seconds into the man-advantage when Luke Johnson cut the deficit to 2-1. UND continued to pressure the Terriers following the goal and nearly tied the game if not for the crossbar.
Moments after North Dakota nearly tied the game, Greer regained the two-goal advantage for the Terriers at the 11:20 mark. Eichel slid a perfect pass for his classmate and Greer one-timed the puck past McIntyre for his third goal of the season.
Somerby made it 4-1 with 6:50 to play in the middle period. He got the puck along the left half-wall and sent a bad-angle shot towards goal. The puck got through two Terriers in front of McIntyre and into the back of the net. After a brief review the goal stood and the Terriers took their three-goal lead to the locker room.
UND nearly mounted a comeback in the third period, beginning with a shorthanded goal at the 7:50 mark. Connor Gaarder then scored on a power play to cut the BU lead to just one at 4-3. After matching minors with 1:33 to play, North Dakota pulled McIntyre in favor of an extra attacker. It was to no avail, as Eichel got the puck just inside his own blue line and calmly sent it into the vacant cage.
Playing in its 22nd Frozen Four, BU is now 41-33-0 all-time in the NCAA tournament. The Terriers and Friars will be taking part in the first all-Hockey East final since 1999.