FROZEN FOUR LIVE | After Garteig saves the day, Quinnipiac to face North Dakota
"That's why we only have three losses in April," Bobcats coach Rand Pecknold said Wednesday. "Like, they're prepared. We don't get ahead of ourselves."
The Bobcats didn't get behind against Boston College on Thursday night, due in part to a slow start by the Eagles and the fast reflexes of Bobcats goalie Michael Garteig.
A finalist for the Mike Richter Award, presented to the nation's top goalie, Garteig has made 969 saves this season. No. 969, his 34th of the night, saved Quinnipiac's season.
With a split-second flick of his left-handed glove, Garteig stopped a blast by Boston College's Ian McCoshen in the final seconds to preserve a 3-2 victory in the Frozen Four, sending the Bobcats to Saturday night's championship game against North Dakota at Amalie Arena in Tampa.
The Fighting Hawks advanced with a 4-2 victory against Denver on Nick Schmaltz's goal with 57 seconds remaining, ending a six-game losing streak in the Frozen Four. UND, which added and empty-netter in the final seconds, will play in its first title game since 2005, when it lost to Denver.
Quinnipiac also survived a fantastic finish.
"I don't think this was the prettiest game on the planet," said Pecknold, the national coach of the year. "But we always find a way to win. ... That's our identity. We don't have to be perfect, but we have to be competitive.
"We have a process. We're 42 games in, and it works."
After 42 games, No. 1 Quinnipiac is 32-3-7.
"Lovin' it," Garteig said, smiling in the lockeroom surrounded by teammates who appeared more confident than jubilant. This is the kind of triumph on which championships are built, and that is their ultimate goal.
"It's certainly a team worthy of playing for a national championship," BC coach Jerry York said.
The Bobcats jumped to a 2-0 lead in the first 7:20 on goals by Kevin McKiernan and Andrew Taverner against the sloppy Eagles. With 11:51 gone in the first period, BC trailed 2-0 and had only two shots on goal.
"We took it to them in the first five minutes," said Travis St. Denis, who assisted on two of Quinnipiac's goals.
"The slow start wasn't in our favor," York said.
Quinnipiac improved to 27-0-2 this season when leading after two periods, but even when the Bobcats get behind they're tough to beat. The Bobcats have trailed in 17 games — for 357 minutes and 20 seconds — and are 10-3-4 in those games.
"We dealt with a lot of adversity in January and February," Pecknold said on Wednesday. "No. 1 team in the country, and like every game was like the Super Bowl for our opponent. They were fired up.
"(We) went on the road, played some tough ranks against teams that maybe were not having the best season, but this was their year. This was their Stanley Cup game. And we had to find a way to win a lot of games or come from behind to even get a tie in the third period.
"It's a resilient group, and we're certainly proud of what we've accomplished so far, but we've still got a little work left to do here."
Quinnipiac, in its second Frozen Four, could extend the streak of first-time champions to four. No. 1 Yale beat the Bobcats to win its first title in 2013 followed by first-timers Union in 2014 and Providence last season.
The other Frozen Four teams have combined for 19 championships, each winning at least five. So how much does experience matter?
York, who was in his 12th Frozen Four with BC, compared Frozen Four pressure to the Masters — fitting since the year's first golf major also started on Thursday.
"I think the more you're into high-pressure situations, similar to a golfer," York said on Wednesday. "One-stroke lead going into 17 and 18 at Augusta, can you withstand the pressure and just get par and win the game? The more you're involved in those type of situations, you get a little calmer, you handle the stress better. ... The first is the most difficult."
Sounds just like Quinnipiac.
The Eagles were trying to win their first championship since 2012, which is also the last time the Frozen Four was played in Tampa. Instead of a Tampa two-fer, the Eagles are one-and-done, though they rallied in the final period.
Landon Smith's power-play goal in the second period gave Quinnipiac a 3-1 lead. BC's Ryan Fitzgerald returned the favor with a power-play goal at 15:44 of the third period, cutting the lead to 3-2 and setting up five frenetic minutes that Bobcats forward Tim Clifton described as chaos.
Pecknold said it didn't help that the Bobcats took too many bad penalties and failed to clear on power plays. "Our compete level is so off the charts, sometimes we get frazzled," he added.
But they survived and advanced thanks to Garteig, who entered the game with eight shutouts, a .926 save percentage and 1.83 goals-against average this season. That's tough to beat.
"He's the backbone of the team," said junior forward Sam Anas, Quinnipiac's leading scorer. "It's unbelievable to see what he's doing out there and it really fuels us."
"He's a winner," Pecknold added. "Great battle mode."
Garteig faced his toughest battle after BC pulled its elite goalie, Thatcher Demko, with 1:38 remaining. He stopped a barrage of near-misses by the Eagles. "Unbelievable," York said, echoing Anas.
Ultimately, York said, BC lost in the first 10 minutes. "It's a 60-minute game," he added.
And thanks to Garteig's 969th save this season, Quinnipiac gets to play on for at least 60 more minutes.
Who's your choice to win the Frozen Final?
Contributing: Brendan Jones
Above: Michael Garteig makes a glove save in the final seconds in front of Boston College's Ryan Fitzgerald to clinch Quinnipiac's 3-2 victory in the Frozen Four semifinal game Thursday night at at Amaile Arena in Tampa. (Photo by Richard T Gagnon/Getty Images)
Middle: Andrew Taverner beats Boston College goalie Thatcher Demko to give Qunnipiac a 2-0 lead in the first period. (Photo by Richard T Gagnon/Getty Images)