Notre Dame wraps up regular season vs. Penn State
Andrew McGuinness | Friday, March 5, 2021
Two weeks after being shut out in consecutive games, the Irish (12-12-2, 9-10-2-1-2-2 Big Ten) were able to return the favor. Notre Dame took care of business with back-to-back 2-0 shutout victories in East Lansing over the Michigan State Spartans last weekend. The sweep wraps up an incredible road regular season for the Irish, as they posted a stellar 9-2-1 record away from Compton Family Ice Arena.
However, a steady diet of home-cooking now awaits Jeff Jackson’s club. The Irish will wrap up their regular-season slate with two games against the Penn State Nittany Lions (9-9, 7-9 Big Ten). Then, Compton Family Ice Arena will play host to this year’s Big Ten championship from March 18-20. So Notre Dame will have a home-ice advantage as they look to win the tournament for the third time in four years in the conference. Last year’s tournament was not completed due to COVID-19.
As mentioned, Notre Dame took care of the Big Ten’s bottom team Michigan State last weekend. The Spartans gave the Irish fits in their first meeting. In their late December series, they tied in the first game and the Spartans came back to hand the Irish an overtime loss. Considering Notre Dame outshot Michigan State 93-48, the Irish very likely deserved a better fate.
The Irish maintained a strong process last weekend, outshooting the Spartans 67-56 and finishing the weekend with a positive penalty differential. This time, the Irish came away with two hard-fought but well-deserved victories. The red-hot line of forwards juniors Alex Steeves and Graham Slaggert and freshman Landon Slaggert picked up where they left off on Friday. A broken play bank shot by Slaggert off the rush and a beautiful goal by Steeves was all the offense the Irish needed to start the series strong.
Notre Dame’s power play accounted for both of Saturday’s goals. Senior forward Colin Theisen broke the ice with a one-timer from the slot 4:31 into the second period. And Slaggert scored again on a beautiful move in front of the net, giving Notre Dame a critical insurance marker in the middle of the third.
It’s been just over a month since the Irish faced Penn State for the first time this year at University Park. Both games were decided in overtime, with each team winning once. The aforementioned L. Slaggert-G. Slaggert-Steeves line connected twice, once in each game. Junior defenseman Spencer Stastney scored a breakaway overtime winner in the rubber match, and senior goaltender Dylan St. Cyr stopped an impressive 65 out of 69 shots, securing a .942 save percentage.
St. Cyr was even more impressive last weekend, stopping all 56 shots he faced. Only two other Big Ten goalies — Minnesota’s Jack LaFontaine and Michigan’s Strauss Mann — have more shutouts than St. Cyr’s three. It’s the first time an Irish netminder has recorded back-to-back shutouts since 2019. Cale Morris kicked off that year’s Big 10 tournament with two against Michigan State (55 combined saves).
Last week’s sweep of the Spartans has the Irish sitting pretty in third place in the Big Ten standings. Notre Dame leads Michigan in the Big 10 standings by six points, but the Wolverines have a slight edge in points percentage (.537 to .530). The Irish have two games left; the Wolverines have three. Notre Dame and Michigan are all but destined to faceoff in the Big Ten Quarterfinals. The entire tournament is single elimination this year for the first time since 2017.
Notre Dame and Penn State finish off their regular season slates at 7:30 p.m. on Friday and 5:30 p.m. on Saturday. You can view Friday’s contest nationally on NBCSN. Saturday’s game will be available on SNY, NBC Sports Boston, NBC Sports Chicago, NBC Sports Philadelphia, and NBC Sports Washington. NBC’s website and app are also streaming both meetings.