BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) – Billy Exell scored the go-ahead goal with 9:53 remaining and defending champion Minnesota Duluth beat Providence on Thursday night 4-1 on Thursday night to advance to the final in college hockey’s Frozen Four.
Justin Richards scored twice for the Bulldogs (28-11-2), who are attempting to become the first team to win consecutive titles since Denver in 2004-05. Hunter Shepard stopped 28 shots and improved his NCAA Tournament career record to 7-0.
Richards and Dylan Samberg sealed the victory with empty-net goals in the final 33 seconds.
The National Collegiate Hockey Conference champion Bulldogs also became the first team to reach three consecutive championship games since Boston College from 2006-08. Minnesota Duluth lost 3-2 to Denver in the 2017 championship game.
The Bulldogs could face Denver yet again in the championship game Saturday. The Pioneers played Massachusetts in the other semifinal.
Providence (24-12-6) was denied an opportunity to reach its first championship game since 2015, when the Friars beat Boston University 4-3 to win their first title. Josh Wilkins scored for Providence and Hayden Hawkey stopped 32 shots.
The Bulldogs overcame having two goals disallowed in the first period by scoring first and then re-securing the lead on Exell’s third goal of the season.
Kobe Roth set up the goal by firing a shot from inside the blue line. Hawkey got his blocker up to stop it, but couldn’t control the rebound. Exell was already driving to the net when he chipped a bouncing puck over Hawkey’s out-stretched glove.
The goal came some three minutes after Minnesota Duluth’s penalty-killers held the Friars scoreless during a two-man advantage spanning 1:18. Exell picked up the second penalty, in breaking up a scoring chance by slashing Providence’s Jack Dugan from behind while driving alone to the net. Dugan was unable to get off a shot.
Shepard stopped all four shots during the two power plays, including getting his left shoulder up to foil Scott Conway set up to the right of the net.
Richards opened the scoring 6:39 into the second period by snapping a shot that sneaked in under Hawkey’s blocker on the far side.
Wilkins tied it 4-1/2 minutes later – and 11 seconds after Minnesota Duluth’s Nick Wolff was penalized for cross-checking.
Minnesota Duluth had its first goal disallowed midway through the first period, when officials confirmed the whistle had blown the play dead before Exell poked in his own rebound under goalie Hayden Hawkey, who had appeared to cover up the puck.
Then, with 3:20 left, Cole Koepke had his goal disallowed after officials ruled following a lengthy review that the forward interfered with Hawkey when he swept in the puck from the slot and inside the left post.
NOTES: The Bulldogs featured 14 players with previous Frozen Four experience and, with captain Parker Mackay leading the team in playing his 13th NCAA Tournament game. … Providence entered the Frozen Four with the most experienced lineup which was made up of six seniors and seven juniors. … Friars associate head coach Ron Rolston made a homecoming after coaching the Buffalo Sabres spanning the 2012-13 and 2013-14 seasons.