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Hockey: Green sweep

Allan Joseph | Monday, February 14, 2011

Coming into the weekend needing six points to keep pace in the CCHA race, No. 10 Notre Dame did just that, sweeping Bowling Green to take sole possession of first place in the conference with just two weekends remaining. The Irish (18-9-5, 15-6-3-2 CCHA) defeated the Falcons (8-21-3, 3-18-3-1) 2-1 Friday night and came back with a much stronger performance Saturday night to earn a comfortable 5-1 victory.

With the victories, Notre Dame clinched a first-round bye in the CCHA playoffs and moved within one point of clinching home ice in the second round.

“Once you get into that position it’s great, but really to me it’s about how well we’re going to be playing when we go into the playoffs,” Irish coach Jeff Jackson said. “You’re going to play a tough opponent in the second round. The most important thing to me is that we’re playing well at the right time in the season. I thought we made some good strides tonight.”

Notre Dame struggled to put the less talented Falcons away Friday night, taking a 1-0 lead in the first period on a goal by freshman forward Bryan Rust. Bowling Green tied the game in the middle of the second period, and despite a number of shots on goal, the Irish could not break through until late in the game when freshman center Anders Lee beat Falcon goaltender Andrew Hammond with a wrist shot from just inside the blue line. Despite the struggles, sophomore goaltender Mike Johnson was happy with the fact that his team earned a gritty win.

“We really showed some guts tonight,” he said. “We won ugly tonight, we’re going to have to do that down the stretch and we understand that.”

Johnson played in net Friday night, stopping 21 of 22 shots in a solid performance. Saturday night, however, freshman Steven Summerhays made a start in goal and turned away 12 of 13 shots in a performance that pleased Jackson.

“Right now I’m feeling a little bit better about our goaltending than I did about three weeks ago,” he said after Saturday’s game. “Mike played well [Friday,] and I thought Steven was good tonight. I don’t have any problem with playing two different guys right now.”

The second game was a much more complete affair for Notre Dame, as the Irish shook off a slow start to earn a wide-open victory.

“We started out very similar to [Friday] and as the game progressed we kind of changed and played a little more simply,” sophomore right wing Billy Maday said. “I think we started to get our scoring chances then. It kind of opened up a little bit.”

Maday led the Irish with two goals, the second of which came on a breakaway as he corralled a clear coming out of the penalty box as his two-minute penalty for high sticking expired.

“[Senior defenseman] Joe Lavin made a great clear on the penalty kill and I perfectly timed it as I was coming out of the box,” Maday said with a laugh. “I don’t even know if he saw me, to be honest.”

Freshman forwards Jeff Costello and T.J. Tynan both found the back of the net, but the goal that most excited the Irish was that of freshman defenseman Jared Beers, who scored the first goal of his career 4:02 into the third period.

“Everybody’s rooting him on, he’s one of the good members of the team,” Jackson said. “I’m happy for him. He plays a smart game for us back there.”

While Notre Dame had been struggling recently with its special teams play, the Irish displayed effective power play and penalty kill units Saturday, killing off six penalties without giving up a goal.

“In all, I was really happy,” Jackson said. “That’s important for us. We’ve got to be strong on special teams to have any chance of doing well in the playoffs.”

The gritty pair of wins put Notre Dame in prime position for an extended playoff run and demonstrated a consistency that the Irish have just now begun to find. With four difficult games remaining against Ferris State and Western Michigan before the playoffs, that consistency will be crucial as the season draws to a close.

“It’s about guys just being prepared to play every night — you get to the playoffs, you don’t, you’re out,” Jackson said. “Learning to play back-to-back is part of the process.”

Notre Dame seeks to clinch second-round home ice next weekend in a pair of games at Ferris State.