After scoring the biggest goal of his life, Ryder Donovan was sheepish about accepting too much praise.
Ricky Lyle deserved all the kudos, Donovan said, and it was hard to argue.
It was Lyle alertly wheeling and firing a pinpoint pass across the crease to a waiting Donovan, who lifted the puck above Andover goalie Ben Fritsinger's skate for a stirring 4-3 victory in another down-to-the-wire Section 7AA final in front of about 4,000 fans at Amsoil Arena.
"We don't get to that point without Ricky Lyle," Mr. Hockey finalist Donovan said. "I hadn't really done much the whole game - I was pressing - but at the end of the day we got it done.
"It was an unreal pass. So emotional."
The dagger came just 36 seconds into overtime, moments after the second-seeded Greyhounds (18-6-2) went on their first power play of the night. From the side boards, Logan Anderson dumped it down low to Lyle, who reached back for the puck at the end line before spinning it to Donovan.
"We've talked about this all year, where each other is supposed to be on the power play," Lyle said. "I knew he'd be there, and he was.
"And he buried it."
Lyle might have earned himself a new nickname during these section playoffs - Mr. Playoff Hockey. He scored twice Thursday and now has eight goals through three postseason games. Lyle's first tally was a one-timed rocket off a feed from Jack FitzGerald midway through the first period.
In the second, with No. 1 Andover (24-3-1) leading 2-1, Lyle pushed a rebound harmlessly into Fritsinger's blocker, but the puck squirted free and Lyle stuck with the play while sliding past the Frank Brimsek Award finalist long enough to push it in for a 2-2 tie.
There was ample speculation that Lyle kicked it in, though replays were inconclusive. Back on the Huskies bench, coach Mark Manney voiced his displeasure.
"I don't know what hit it across," Lyle recalled. "All that matters is it got across, right?"
FitzGerald gave East a 3-2 lead 2:35 into the third period, a testament to the senior's perseverance. FitzGerald broke his left forearm last summer and his right collarbone during the fall Elite League, bouncing back both times.
FitzGerald's tally looked like it might stand as the game-winner until Andover's Charlie Schoen, another Mr. Hockey candidate, ripped a tough-angle shot to the top shelf and forge a 3-3 deadlock with 6:05 left in the third on the Huskies' first man advantage.
"I thought that was going to be it, but I'm just glad we were able to pull it off," FitzGerald said.
The Greyhounds stretched their winning streak to seven games while securing the program's 24th trip to the state tournament. They did so by surviving another one-goal doozy. For the seventh consecutive year, the section championship was decided by a single goal. Five of the past six have gone to overtime. That includes 2018, when the Greyhounds rallied past Andover 3-2.
East goalie Brody Rabold was up to the task. Look up "unsung" in the dictionary and you're likely to find Rabold's picture. He just gets the job done, which he did again Thursday. Sandwiched between Kyle Nelson's rebound goal 4:51 into the second period, which handed the Huskies their first and only lead, were a couple terrific saves from Rabold, including a steely denial on an all-alone Schoen.
"He came into the program as a fifth goalie," said Randolph, who improved to 18-3 in section finals. "I didn't even know his name. We just started playing him last summer and it was like, 'This kid's pretty good.' "
Andover was searching for its state-tournament debut. Manny said his players were tight, likely burdened by the weight of trying to get the Huskies to Xcel Energy Center.
"I didn't think we'd be as nervous as we were," the coach said. "Coach Randolph talks about this being the toughest game to win - and he's right."
East returns to state and will play in the Class AA quarterfinals next Thursday against a to-be-determined opponent. Can Lyle continue his playoff scoring prowess in St. Paul?
"I've been able to hit my stride at the right time," he said, grinning.
• East's Frederick Paine on Thursday was announced as one of 16 finalists for the Reed Larson Award, given annually to Minnesota's top senior defenseman. Paine was joined on the list by fellow Northlanders Darian Gotz of Hermantown and Darren Shykes of Duluth Denfeld. The past three winners: Hermantown's Wyatt Aamodt and Dylan Samberg in 2016 and 2017, respectively, and East's Luke LaMaster last year.
The 2019 winner will be announced next week.
Duluth East 1-1-1-1-4
First period - 1. DE, Ricky Lyle (Jack FitzGerald, Logan Anderson), 8:18; 2. A, Wyatt Kaiser (Hunter Jones, Michael Clough), 8:52.
Second period - 3. A, Kyle Nelson (Dylan Livgard, Harrison VanderMey), 4:51; 4. DE, Lyle (Carson Cochran, Brendan Baker), 7:04.
Third period - 5. DE, FitzGerald (Lyle, Anderson), 2:35; 6. A, Charlie Schoen (Nick Dainty, Kaiser), 10:55 (pp).
Overtime - 7. DE, Ryder Donovan (Lyle, Anderson), 7:24 (pp).
Saves - Brody Rabold, DE, 26; Ben Fritsinger, A, 21.