Lindberg turns it on late, Minutemen advance to NCAA title game

Freshman netminder made two key stops in overtime

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Lindberg turns it on late, Minutemen advance to NCAA title game

(Jon Asgeirsson/Daily Collegian)

(Jon Asgeirsson/Daily Collegian)

Jon Asgeirsson

(Jon Asgeirsson/Daily Collegian)

Jon Asgeirsson

Jon Asgeirsson

(Jon Asgeirsson/Daily Collegian)

By Liam Flaherty, Collegian Staff

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BUFFALO, N.Y. — The Massachusetts hockey team blew a two-goal lead in the third period of the national semifinal on Thursday night and Denver was carrying all the momentum going into overtime.

That should’ve meant a loss for the Minutemen, but Filip Lindberg wouldn’t let it happen.

Thanks to five crucial stops from the freshman netminder during the sudden-death period, Marc Del Gaizo blasted the game-winning goal past Filip Larsson to send UMass (31-9) to the national championship.

“He’s been a backbone for us,” Cale Makar said. “When we see him make big saves like that, it’s a big confidence booster for us on the bench. It gets us pretty fired up. It’s awesome to have that guy back there.”

After the Pioneers (24-12-5) stormed back from a 3-1 deficit on a pair of goals from Cole Guttman in the final ten minutes, Lindberg locked it down and gave the Minutemen a chance to win.

“It was unfortunate they tied the game, but I just focused on stopping the next puck,” Lindberg said of how he responded to the late surge. “It doesn’t change the mindset; it doesn’t change anything. You just keep on going. You keep playing your own game. We knew we were going to take the win.”

After scoring three goals in under two minutes to build a 3-1 lead in the middle of the first, UMass began to take its foot off the gas in the second and third periods. The Pioneers were buzzing when they tied it late and looked like a team of destiny heading into overtime. But the Minutemen had other ideas.

“A couple guys fired the whole team up,” Lindberg said of the break. “It was a good intermission. We all took a deep breath, gathered our thoughts, and that got the team fired up. We were ready to go.”

When overtime began, both teams were tired and desperately searching for the winner; ugly or not.

The Pioneers looked like they might pull off the improbable comeback when leading goal-scorer Jarid Lukoseviciu crashed the net and tried to wait out Lindberg, but the Finland native didn’t budge. He calmly reached out, poked away the streaking backhander and kept the Minutemen in the race.

Spurred by Lindberg’s resiliency, UMass began to find some quality scoring chances of its own.

But on the other end, Larsson was equally as stubborn. Just minutes after stopping Lukoseviciu on the doorstep, the freshman goalie did it again. When Griffin Mendel launched a shot on net from the center of the point, the forward came darting into the frame and managed to get a stick on the wrister.

For the second time, Lindberg stood tall. The puck nearly crept by him on the tip, but with a slew of shirts racing to greet him, the freshman quickly covered up the puck and readied for another save.

Minutes later, Del Gaizo found the heroic winner, pushing the Minutemen to the national championship.

“That was the most amazing feeling ever, I was so happy,” Lindberg said of realizing the game was over. “I jumped into the air and got so fired up. It was amazing. We deserve to be there. We’ve been working hard the whole season, every day. We know we have every opportunity to win the whole thing.”

Liam Flaherty can be reached at [email protected] and on Twitter @_LiamFlaherty.