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After splitting road series, Notre Dame looks to pass Minnesota in Big Ten standings

| Monday, February 25, 2019

No. 16 Notre Dame split this weekend’s pair of games against Minnesota as the Irish triumphed with a 3-2 win on Friday but fell in a 2-1 outing the following evening. The Irish capped off their regular-season series against the Gophers and have two games remaining before the Big Ten tournament.

The Irish (17-12-3, 10-10-2-2 Big Ten) entered Minneapolis trailing the Gophers (14-15-4, 11-10-3-0) by two points in the standings, hoping to get two wins at the 3M Arena at Mariucci and take sole possession of second place. Despite the split, the Irish kept that goal in sight with two games remaining in the regular season.

Friday’s game was a come-from-behind win for Notre Dame. After the first 20 minutes, the Gophers had a 2-0 lead. Gopher sophomore forward Brannon McManus opened the scoring with a shot that was saved by junior Irish goaltender Cale Morris before being deflected by a Notre Dame defenseman. Eight minutes later, freshman forward Nathan Burke notched another goal to put the Gophers up two.

Ann Curtis | The Observer
Irish sophomore forward Colin Theisen rushes toward the action during Notre Dame’s 5-2 win over Michigan on Feb. 12 at Compton Family Ice Arena.

Irish head coach Jeff Jackson noted that his team tends to fall behind early in games but believes that Notre Dame played well in the final 10 minutes of the first period.

“We’ve had a problem of falling behind and chasing the game,” Jackson said. “I thought we played really well the second 10 minutes of the first period.”

With their backs against the wall the Irish fought back and increased the pressure in the second period. Sophomore forward Colin Theisen capitalized on a power play at 2:47 in the period to get the Irish on the board. Later in the period, Notre Dame freshman forward Cam Burke finished off a pass from sophomore forward Pierce Crawford and scored an even-strength goal at 17:43, tying things up at two goals apiece.

“It was good for us to score that first goal because it gave us some confidence going into the second period,” Jackson said.

Notre Dame’s defense had a critical penalty kill in the early onset of the third period, with Morris recording four saves alone on the sequence.

Theisen attacked and scored once more against the Gophers with a game-winning wrist shot at 8:01 in the final period. Jackson had high praise for Theisen’s improved form.

“He’s been playing well over the last month. He’s been playing up and down on the lineup. He started showing some real positive signs about two weeks ago,” Jackson said. “He’s a guy that we rely on to potentially score some goals for us and tonight he did a great job.”

Despite the 28 saves from Minnesota’s goaltender, junior Mat Robson, it was Morris who picked up the win with his 24 saves. The Irish offense outshot the Gophers 31-26.

The action returned to the ice the next day as the Irish looked to get a firm grasp on possibly locking up second place in the conference.

Just like the night before, the Gophers drew first blood. Junior defender Tyler Nanne scored after being left alone at the top of the slot. His fourth goal of the year made it 1-0 in favor of the Gophers at 8:53 in the opening period.

The Irish evened things up 4:50 into the second period with a goal from freshman forward Alex Steeves, whose chance was created thanks to the forecheck of the freshman forward duo of Graham Slaggert and Jake Pivonka.

Minnesota quickly responded however, scoring its second of the night at 9:28 in the second period. An Irish turnover ended with a goal from sophomore forward Scott Reedy from the faceoff circle.

In the final period, Notre Dame upped its offense. Numerous quality chances were created especially in the final 2:11 of play when Morris was substituted for an extra attacker. The final flurry from the Irish included close-range shots from Theisen and Pivonka, and a shot from senior forward Dylan Malmquist that got redirected just wide.

The efforts by Notre Dame proved to be insufficient as the Gophers halted any attempts at an Irish comeback. The Gophers finished their Big Ten regular-season play with a 2-0 win and currently sit at second place in the conference behind Ohio State — which has already locked up the No. 1 seed.

Jackson said that his team has been lacking a reliable offense.

“Just can’t find a way to score goals on a consistent basis. Last night we had a little bit of secondary scoring, tonight we didn’t,” he said. “I thought we played well in the first and the third [period], it was just the second period that made the difference in the game.”

Notre Dame is now tied for third place with Michigan in the Big Ten conference standings with 34 points, trailing second-place Minnesota by two points. The Irish finish off their Big Ten regular-season play next weekend when they host Penn State.

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