SOUTH BEND, Ind. — There’s something about the post season that brings out the best in Notre Dame goaltender Morgan Cey.
Not that he doesn’t excel in the regular season, but in each of the last two seasons, the junior has led the Fighting Irish to the CCHA Super Six with outstanding goaltending. It looks like this season could be no different.
Cey stopped 40 of 42 Western Michigan shots and got goals from Brett Lebda, Matt Amado, Josh Sciba and T.J. Jindra as 14th-ranked Notre Dame took a 4-2 win versus the Broncos in Game 1 of the first round of the CCHA playoffs Friday night at the Joyce Center.
Western got goals from Paul Davies and Brent Walton, cutting a pair of two-goal Irish leads in the second and third periods.
Due to injuries, Cey only saw action in 10 games this season going into Friday. The call went out to the junior and he responded.
“Morgan just plays with such a confidence in the playoffs. He’s excelled in his first two seasons and likes the challenge of playoff hockey. He really shined tonight,” said head coach Dave Poulin.
“I think every competitive person likes to raise the bar when the playoffs start,” said Cey. “We play hard during the regular season but when the playoffs come, you want to raise your game to a higher level. Every player on this team did that tonight.”
It took a while for Western Michigan to get its offense in gear as the Broncos went the first nine minutes without a shot on goal. When they finally broke through, they threw everything they had at the Notre Dame net. For the night, the Broncos launched 80 shots at the goal with 42 of them making it to the net. Cey kept his focus for what was to come.
“It’s the toughest thing in hockey when you go stretches without any shots. You just have to be ready for when you are called upon,” said Cey.
“I take pride in being able to stay focused. The entire team did that tonight to come up with the big win.”
Lebda got the Irish on the board first at 18:24 of the first period with his sixth goal of the season. Aaron Gill won a faceoff back to Lebda at the right point. Lebda fired a high wrist shot that beat Western Michigan’s Scott Foster high to his glove side for a 1-0 Notre Dame lead.
The lead would go to 2-0 at 4:25 of the second period as Matt Amado whipped a wrister from the high slot past Foster. Defenseman Wes O’Neill found Amado cutting through center ice and the junior used a Western defenseman as a screen in collecting his fifth goal of the season.
The Broncos fired 18 shots at Cey in the second period with nine of them coming on four power-play chances. Back-to-back calls against Irish defenseman Tom Galvin at 14:27 and 16:42 were key kills for the CCHA’s top penalty-killing unit.
“The penalty killers were huge in the second period. Your best penalty killer is the goaltender and Morgan made some huge saves. They’ve been doing it all year, blocking shots, taking away the passing lanes. They came up big tonight,” said Poulin.
Western Michigan broke through on Cey at 10:02 off a scramble around the net. Reid Yantzi came up with a loose puck behind the Irish goal and got it in front to Paul Davies, who jammed the puck past Cey to cut the lead to 2-1.
The Irish power play converted an errant Bronco clearing attempt early in the third period to build the lead to 3-1. Freshman Josh Sciba knocked the pass down in the slot and whipped a shot past Foster for his seventh goal of the year and his first game winner.
The Broncos weren’t done though. Brent Walton flipped a pass from Lucas Drake past Cey at 17:06 to cut the lead to 3-2.
When Wes O’Neill was whistled off for crosschecking with just 55 seconds left, the Broncos pulled Foster, giving them a two-man advantage, but T.J. Jindra ended the drama with 30 seconds left when he flipped a loose puck the length of the ice into the open net for his second short-handed tally of the year to seal the win.
On the night, Western Michigan outshot the Irish 42-33. Foster made 29 saves for the Broncos. Cey’s 40-save night was a season high.
The win improved the Irish to 19-12-4 on the season and extended their home unbeaten streak to 15 games (13-0-2). The Broncos fall to 16-17-4 on the year.
Despite the win, the Irish have their work cut out for them Saturday.
“There wasn’t much celebrating in that locker room tonight,” said Poulin. “They know they have a huge task at hand. There is still a lot of hard work left to do to get where we want to go.”
Game 2 is set to start at 7:05 p.m. at Notre Dame’s Joyce Center.