SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Michigan needs two points in its next four games to seal up first place, but the Wolverines didn’t get them Friday night against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish in South Bend at the Joyce Center, as the Irish controlled all aspects of the game and Jason Paige scored two goals to lead the Irish to a 4-1 victory.
In the first period, the Irish weathered the storm that the Wolverines presented, then took control midway through the first period, although the game remained scoreless until the beginning of the second. The flow of the game in the first period was fanatically fast, due to the speed that both teams possess.
In the second, however, the Irish finally managed to put the puck behind Wolverine sophomore goaltender Alvaro Montoya — in triplicate.
The first goal was just after Michigan had their best scoring opportunity of the early game.
Junior forward Jason Ryznar’s shot was saved by freshman Irish goaltender David Brown, but sophomore defenseman Eric Werner was there to gobble up the rebound and send it flying back toward the Irish net.
Brown managed to make the save, and the Irish started up the ice, but Werner was caught behind the play. The Irish made the most of their 2-on-1 advantage as freshman forward T.J. Jindra slid the puck behind Montoya to give the Irish the one goal advantage.
The second goal was just as unfortunate for the Wolverines.
With the face-off in the Irish zone, junior forward Eric Nystrom tried to drop the puck back to his defenseman on the blue line, but Irish junior forward Cory McLean made a great play to intercept the pass and started off on a breakaway and scored, giving the Irish the 2-0 lead.
“The goals we gave up tonight, they weren’t great goals for us to give up, and when you have a chance at one end and then give up at the other end and they score, that really hurts you, and in these games, the chances you get are so key to capitalize on,” said Wolverine sophomore forward Jeff Tambellini.
The Irish would add a third goal, Paige’s first of the evening, before the period was over.
More bad luck hit the Wolverines with the third Irish goal. In attempting to make the save on Paige’s shot, Montoya did an awkward split and injured a hamstring, and is doubtful for tomorrow night’s series finale.
Sophomore goaltender Noah Ruden came into replace his injured team mate and let one shot get past him, a double deflection that wasn’t entirely his fault, in the third period.
“We have a lot of trust in [Ruden],” Tambellini said. “He’s been a great back-up goalie for us all last year and this year, and when given the chance to play, he’s done well, so we feel as strong with him in [net] as we do with [Montoya].”
The Wolverines also scored a goal in the third period on the power play before the Irish scored their fourth goal, but the Irish scored their fourth shortly after and took the wind the Wolverines had been gathering out of their sails, and that was the way the game ended.
“We didn’t do our job getting pucks to the net as well as we should’ve tonight. In the third period we put some traffic in front of [Brown] and actually got one, so he just stood well in there.
“We have to come out of the gates faster. We came out really slow tonight, and didn’t make do with our chances, and that’s the key to the whole game — come out and set the tempo early, and put them behind the eight ball,” Tambellini said.
“We didn’t show up tonight, we didn’t play our best — not even close, so there’s a lot of confidence in Ruden that we can come back and put a great effort forward and kind of salvage the weekend.”
“You want to be playing well at this point in the season,” said Irish coach Dave Poulin. “We played well against Ferris — very well against Ferris — and then came back with a week off, and you don’t know how that’s going to effect you.
“I think the guys did an excellent job themselves in handling the time off, and came back focused. We were ready to play tonight.
“I think the keys to the game were killing their first power play and then responding when we got an opportunity on the power play. I thought we did a good job on the penalty kill, and their power play goal was a good goal.
The puck will drop on the series finale tomorrow at 7:05 in the Joyce Center in South Bend.