One more win and the Compton Family Ice Arena would have made room for another banner.
Thanks to a 3-1 victory over No. 5 Boston University on Friday in the series opener, Notre Dame had a regular season Hockey East title in its grasp. But the Terriers rallied to salvage a split Saturday with a 4-1 win, leaving the Irish only partially satisfied.
UMass-Lowell, Boston University and Boston College finished in a tie atop Hockey East with 29 points. Notre Dame had 28.
Finishing in the top four gives the Irish (19-10-5, 12-6-4 Hockey East) a bye this week through the first round of the league playoffs. But a regular season conference title remained elusive in their final try. They’ll compete in the Big Ten starting next season.
“I’m sure they’re down,” head coach Jeff Jackson said. “We’re all disappointed that we couldn’t come away with another win (Saturday). Frankly, sometimes you have to lose to learn how to win. For us it’s not a bad thing to start over again and get our juices going for the next round.”
Two goals from Jake Evans on Friday helped No. 14 Notre Dame put itself in the best position possible.
Evans gave the Irish a 1-0 lead at 9:19 of the first period. Patrick Harper pulled Boston University (21-10-3, 13-6-3 Hockey East) even about seven minutes later. Ben Ostlie then scored his first goal of the season at 18:33 of the second period for a 2-1 Irish lead.
Goalie Cal Petersen helped the advantage stand up. He turned away all 10 Terriers shots in the second period and another 23 in the third, finishing with 37 saves.
Boston University peppered Petersen in the third period and had its only two power plays of the game. Notre Dame killed them both off to preserve its one-goal lead.
“It has gotten better,” Jackson said of the penalty kill. “I’m really impressed with the growth of some of our young guys, like Andrew Peeke and Tory Dello on defense. And Jordan Gross, he’s become a good defender now. He was always known as a good offensive defenseman but he’s a much better defender now. (Dennis) Gilbert speaks for himself defensively so I like our back end and how it has improved from the beginning of the year.”
Evans scored at 17:25 of the third to clinch the 3-1 victory.
Mike O’Leary gave the Irish a 1-0 lead again Saturday with his second goal of the season. But the Terriers broke out over the second and third periods.
Kieffer Bellows scored a power-play goal at 9:21 of the second and John MacCleod added another to make it 2-1 by the second intermission.
“The momentum changed in the second period last game and it changed again (Saturday) in the second period,” Jackson said. “(Saturday) we couldn’t recover. One of the toughest things to do in college hockey is to win two games in somebody else’s building. Especially when you’re playing a high-quality team. There’s always going to be pushback.
“Our guys did a great job (Friday) night. It took a lot out of them, physically and emotionally. We didn’t have enough in us tonight to do it again.”
Clayton Keller made sure of it with two goals in the third period, pushing his season total to 19 and the lead to 4-1 by the 16:30 mark. Notre Dame put 41 shots on Terriers goalie Jake Oettinger but couldn’t find another goal.
Petersen made 32 saves.
Notre Dame lost its regular season finale but went 5-1-2 in its last eight games, building up plenty of momentum for the coming playoffs.
“I’m proud of what they’ve done,” Jackson said. “We talked about the lack of consistency for the first half of the year, and just this last month they’ve been very consistent in their approach and how they’ve played. I can’t do anything but tip my hat to them. I don’t think anybody thought we were going to come in here thinking we were playing for first place. We came in here with the idea that we were going to try to get home ice. That was our number one objective.
“All the rest happened within the last 24 hours. I think that it would have been nice, especially in our last year in this conference, to win a championship. We haven’t done that. This league is so tight that any of the four teams in the top four, or probably any of the top five or six teams, could have won the championship.”
In the end the Irish didn’t, but scoring a Hockey East tournament bye and home ice for the quarterfinals on March 10-12 isn’t a bad consolation price.