PHILADELPHIA - Justin Holl and the Minnesota Golden Gophers cut it about as close as possible after waiting all season to renew their long rivalry with North Dakota.
The senior defenceman scored a short-handed goal with 0.6 seconds left to give Minnesota a 2-1 victory over North Dakota on Thursday night in the NCAA hockey semifinals.
Minnesota (28-6-6) will face Union College in the title game Saturday night. Union beat Boston College 5-4 in the first semifinal at Wells Fargo Center.
"Guess it was just another boring Minnesota-North Dakota game," Gophers coach Don Lucia joked.
Holl scored his first goal of the season, beating Zane Gothberg to the glove side with a shot just inside the right post.
"Most of us were just focused on killing the penalty and getting into overtime," Holl said. "It just developed where there were 5 seconds left and I might as well jump in (the offensive rush). And it went in."
The Gophers were in the midst of killing off a power play on which North Dakota fired four shots on Adam Wilcox, but the Minnesota goalie stopped them all. Overall, Wilcox made 36 saves.
"We're a good team with a great goalie," Lucia said.
Minnesota advanced to its 11th championship game and first since 2003, the year it won the last of its five titles.
"For me it was more relief than joy," Lucia said. "But I'm happy for our kids that they found a way to win."
Sam Warning opened the scoring for Minnesota with 9:09 left, and Connor Gaarder tied it for North Dakota 32 seconds later.
North Dakota (25-14-3) entered the tournament as an at-large No. 4 seed in the Midwest Region and beat top-seeded Wisconsin and second-seeded Ferris State in double overtime.
"It's really important to know that you left everything out there. And our guys did that today," North Dakota coach Dave Hakstol said. "It's a bit of a numbing feeling to be walking away at this point in time."
After two scoreless periods, Warning finally broke through on a second-chance backhand shot in the slot. But Gaarder countered, putting the puck between Wilcox and the post on his own rebound.
North Dakota nearly found the back of the net twice in the closing minutes of the second period. First, Drake Caggiula had an open net, but whiffed on an attempted shot. About a minute later, Gaarder had a one-time chance in the same spot and similarly couldn't get his stick on the puck.
For the Gophers, North Dakota's loss was reminiscent of their own tournament exit a season ago, when they fell just 9 seconds into overtime to eventual-champion Yale in the first round.
"No one likes to go through that — the season ending like that. It's a disappointing way to go out," Wilcox said. "After the game you really think about what they could feel like, and that could've been your spot, so you just (feel) really fortunate you're able to move on.
"We're playing the best hockey we have all year at the right time."
NOTES: The two programs last met in the NCAA tournament in 2012, when Minnesota won 5-2 in the regional finals. Minnesota is 3-2 vs. North Dakota in tournament games. ... The two former WCHA rivals didn't meet in the regular season for the first time since 1946-47 after Minnesota moved to the newly formed Big Ten hockey conference this year. ... Minnesota has 146-130-15 lead in the series that dates to 1930.
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