Irish suffer crushing set-back in sweep to Spartans
Notre Dame entered this critical weekend in their 2022-23 campaign feeling better about themselves than they arguably have all season. The Irish entered Friday winners of three of their last four and five of their last seven matches. They were coming off their first series sweep since mid-October and their first all season in conference play. The Spartans were coming off a weekend in which they surrendered 14 goals to Minnesota and had not won a game in regulation since Dec. 9. On paper, it looked like the perfect opportunity to keep the good times rolling.
But that’s not what happened on Friday night at Munn Ice Arena. Michigan State presented the Irish with an early five-minute power-play for boarding, giving the Irish a chance to get their off-and-on offense in a good place for the weekend. And sure enough, the power-play offered a sign of where the game was headed, just not a positive one. Spartans goaltender Dylan St. Cyr, who played for Notre Dame from 2017-2021, stopped all five shots the Irish took on the man advantage, and all the ones before it … and all of the ones after it. St. Cyr has done everything possible to keep Michigan State in games, recording a .913 save percentage for a team allowing about 33 shots a night. Friday was no exception, as he turned away all 32 shots the Irish threw at him.
Despite an 11-5 edge in shots through 20 minutes, the Irish were never able to seize control of the game. Even worse, they presented Michigan State with a prime opportunity to take it for themselves by taking two penalties in quick succession in the second. The Spartans were not able to capitalize on a brief 5-on-3, but with the second penalty still being served, Jagger Joshua deflected a Matt Basgall wrister past senior goaltender Ryan Bischel to break the deadlock.
Just over five minutes later, Michigan State would double their lead. A turnover by sophomore defenseman Jake Boltmann behind his own net freed the puck up for Erik Middendorf, who craftily dragged the puck around Bischel for his seventh goal of the season. Notre Dame was unable to make a serious push to equalize, failing to even outshoot Michigan State in the final frame. An empty-netter by Nicolas Muller, who assisted on each of the Spartans’ first two goals, officially sealed the deal.
St. Cyr also made the difference again in Saturday’s series finale, stopping 33 of 35 shots to lead the Spartans to victory before a sold-out crowd of 6,555. Bischel stopped 25 of 28 shots in the loss.
Michigan State never trailed in the contest, getting their first lead 11:42 in on a power-play goal by Karsen Dorwart. After a scuffle in front of the Michigan State goal led to matching penalties, the teams played at 4-on-4 until Irish graduate student forward Jackson Pierson took an offensive zone penalty. Michigan State went on a 4-on-3 power-play, allowing Daniel Russel room to wire a snapshot from the top of the right circle. Dorwart tipped it past Bischel to put the Spartans up 1-0.
The Irish countered less than two minutes later when junior forward Landon Slaggert found the back of the net on a seeing-eye shot from the high slot. It was a nice individual effort by Slaggert, who took the puck in the corner and made room for himself to take the shot, tying the game at 13:14. Graduate student forward Chayse Primeau and junior defenseman Zach Plucinski assisted on the goal.
With under two minutes remaining in the first period, the Spartans went back out in front. Muller got loose from in front of the Notre Dame goal and tapped a cross-crease pass from Jeremy Davidson past Bischel. Despite outshooting the Spartans 13-6 in the first, the Irish trailed after one.
Notre Dame scored the only goal of the second period. After Joshua took his team’s second five-minute major penalty of the weekend, sophomore forward Justin Janicke set up Primeau for a one-time shot that beat St. Cyr. It was Primeau’s team-leading and his seventh in his last six games.
It was anyone’s game going into the third. But Michigan State got a break early in the period when Irish senior forward Solag Bakich took a delay of game penalty. Backich had closed his gloved hand on the puck in the neutral zone. Notre Dame was strong on the penalty kill for the first minute. Eventually, though, Michigan State was able to get set up. Davidson made a perfect pass into the wheelhouse of defenseman David Gucciardi. Gucciardi’s one-time howitzer beat Bischel cleanly from the left point to give Michigan State the 3-2 lead.
The Irish had their chances to tie the score as time drained away. But St. Cyr was there to stop each one, including a breakaway by Hunter Strand with just two seconds remaining.
Old patterns came back to haunt the Irish in East Lansing. Their penalty-kill, the worst in the Big Ten, surrendered two goals on three attempts. The road struggles also persisted, as Notre Dame dropped to 4-10-1 away from Compton Ice Arena.
The loss puts Notre Dame on the outside of the NCAA tournament picture with just two regular season series remaining. With a 13-14-3 overall record, the Irish now need to finish strong against No. 8 Ohio State and No. 4 Michigan to be eligible for the NCAA Tournament. That could come from either a great performance to close out the regular season or by advancing in the Big Ten conference tournament or winning it tournament outright. But even the latter hopes depend vitally on results in the next four games.