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Irish end regular season with split results against Michigan State

and | Monday, February 26, 2018

No. 5 Notre Dame split its final regular season series this against Michigan State, winning on Friday night over the Spartans (12-19-2, 6-15-2 Big Ten) but falling on Senior Night on Saturday.

On Friday, sophomore goalie Cale Morris assumed his dominant form in the first period, stopping all 12 of Michigan State’s shots on goal with ease. On the other end, with 4:28 remaining, sophomore forward Mike O’Leary slotted a wrist shot off an assist from junior defenseman Bobby Nardella and junior forward Jack Jenkins for his third goal of the season to put Notre Dame (23-9-2, 17-6-1) up 1-0.

Ann Curtis | The Observer
Notre Dame and Ohio State players scramble in front of the net in a game at Compton Family Ice Arena on Feb. 10.

The Irish got off to a hot start in the second period despite being short-handed as a result of a cross-checking minor on freshman defenseman Matt Hellickson at the end of the first. Less than a minute into the action, senior forward Jake Evans scored on a breakaway to put Notre Dame up 2-0.

Five minutes into the second period, Michigan State got on the board thanks to a goal from junior defenseman Zach Osburn, which cut the Irish lead to one. But the Irish would refuse to stand down.

A minute after the Osburn goal, sophomore defenseman Andrew Peeke scored on a wrist shot thanks to the assist from sophomore forward Cal Burke and junior forward Andrew Oglevie.

Several seconds later, Evans fed the puck to sophomore forward Cam Morrison next to the net, Morrison capitalized, scoring his sixth goal of the season and giving the Irish a commanding 4-1 lead. Notre Dame added to the lead a few minutes later, when junior forward Joe Wegwerth scored his fifth goal of the season off a rebound, assisted by Oglevie and Nardella.

With a four goal lead and time to play, Morrison continued his stellar offensive play, intercepting a botched Michigan State pass and slotting a wrist shot on the breakaway for his second goal of the night, which gave the Irish a 6-1 lead to end the period.

Notre Dame managed to maintain their lead despite a bit of a comeback effort from the Spartans in the third period.

After Michigan State was called for a hooking minor, junior forward Brennan Sanford scored a shorthanded goal to cut the Irish lead to four. Roughly four minutes later, after a Michigan State pass hit the boards, Osburn scored on a slap shot from the right side, further cutting into the lead. But Notre Dame held its ground the rest of the period, coming out on top by a score of 6-3.

Coach Jackson was pleased with the offensive firepower on Friday night.

“It was nice to score a lot of goals,” Jackson said. “It was good to see, especially in the second period, we started resembling our team in the first half. We started doing some good things and goals were a result — good effort, good back pressure good transitioning. Defense leads to offense.”

Peeke said the team is focused on staying hot and maintaining a high level of play heading into the playoffs.

“The past couple of weeks, we had a few losses,” he said. “And after we clinched the regular season and knew we were going to be the first seed, coach really wanted us to come in hot for playoffs, and that’s such an important thing for the team. So, this week, after losing to Michigan, we really wanted to put an emphasis on going into playoffs hot.”

At Senior Night on Saturday, the Irish started brightly, but weren’t able to put Michigan State away, as the Spartans hung around for two periods before seizing control in the third, winning 5-4 and putting a damper on the evening and the end of the regular season for the Irish.

In the first period, Notre Dame’s early pressure kept the Spartans on their heels, but for the first half of the period the chances didn’t lead to much. At 9:48, Notre Dame had a golden opportunity to open the scoring after Michigan State freshman forward Jake Smith was called for tripping. But on the power play the Spartans held firm, and Notre Dame again came away empty.

Three minutes later, the Irish used their speed to get out in transition, and Evans found a streaking Colin Theisen with a cross-ice pass, and the freshman forward subsequently coolly slotted top shelf over the left shoulder of Spartan goaltender John Lethemon to give Notre Dame a 1-0 lead.

It wouldn’t take long for Michigan State to respond. After a bad outlet pass from deep in Notre Dame’s zone was intercepted by the Spartans, sophomore forward Taro Hirose fired home from the blue line past Irish sophomore goalie Cale Morris to tie the game up at one with 2:29 left in the period.

In the second, the Spartans opened on a power play after Theisen was called for slashing with five seconds left in the first period. But after an interference call on Spartan forward Mitchell Lewandowski made it four-on-four, Notre Dame went on the power play for a little over a minute. With the two minutes winding down, senior defenseman Jordan Gross found Evans with his back turned in front of the net. The senior turned and fired a wrist shot that Lethemon got his glove to but couldn’t keep out, as the Irish went back on top 2-1.

With six minutes left in the period, Michigan State once again answered. A slap shot from sophomore defenseman Jerad Rosburg was saved by Morris, but the rebound fell to Lewandowski, who finished in front of the net to knot the game back up at 2. The Spartans almost went up front a few moments later, but after review the goal was disallowed.

In the final moments of the period, the Irish once again went on the penalty kill, as junior forward Andrew Oglevie was called for slashing at 19:31.

But for the second night in a row, Notre Dame jumped out and made the Spartans pay short-handed. 42 seconds into the start of the third the Irish penalty kill got out on a two-on-one with Evans and Jenkins. A ricocheted-shot off the post from Jenkins found its way to junior defenseman Dennis Gilbert, who finished calmly to put the Irish up 3-2. But the Spartans came right back, as Lewandowski added a second to tie the game back up 3:20 into the period.

At 8:50 in the period, Michigan State’s tenacity paid off, as Rosburg fired the Spartans ahead 4-3. Now down for the first time all game, the Irish pushed for a goal. Morrison had a shot ring off the cross pipe, while Evans had a chance in front of the net that was blocked and dribbled wide. The best chance of the bunch came with a minute left, as Oglevie tried to put a rebound on net, but was kept out by a miraculous reflex save from Lethemon. Notre Dame piled on the pressure in the final moments after going with an empty net, but couldn’t break through, as the Spartans held on.

“As I’ve said all season long, it’s extremely hard to beat the same team four times in a row, and that’s more what I expected from Michigan State,” Jackson said after the game. “That’s the team I saw on tape, last night we jumped on them in the second period and tonight we didn’t have that.”

With two weeks off until the Irish play again in the Big Ten semifinals, Jackson said the team will refocus to try and get back to its winning ways.

“We’ll have a full week of practice, they’ll get a couple of additional days off over the next few weeks since we want them to be rested, but we don’t want to lose our competitive edge,” he said. “… We haven’t been the same team since we clinched the league, I thought we showed signs last Sunday at Michigan, I thought we showed signs again last night, and for the first period tonight, if we had played 60 minutes like that we would’ve won the game.”

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