ANN ARBOR, Mich. — After a 9-2 drubbing in Fort Wayne, Ind., on Friday night, cellar-dwelling Notre Dame gave first-place Michigan all it could handle at Yost Ice Arena Saturday. With a 3-2 lead going into the third period, the Wolverines killed off nearly two minutes of a Fighting Irish five-on-three power play, then rode out the momentum for a 6-3 victory.
Michigan’s struggling penalty-kill unit was tested at the beginning of the third period after freshman Kevin Porter was called for a game misconduct for hitting from behind. Halfway through the five-minute penalty, defenseman Tim Cook’s roughing violation gave the Fighting Irish 1:55 of two-man advantage.
But Montoya and the Michigan penalty killers stepped up and kept Notre Dame off the board. Montoya stopped the biggest Fighting Irish threat, a cross-crease pass to captain Cory McLean, with an amazing save when the junior goalie appeared to be beat.
“We knew it would be a different game,” Michigan coach Red Berenson said. “You can’t beat a team 9-2 and expect them to lay down.”
“Our penalty killers dug in there and were the difference in the game, especially in the five-minute major and the two-man short,” Berenson added. One of the key cogs in the penalty kill was junior center Andrew Ebbett, who made a key play to clear to puck from the Michigan zone, then chased it down at center ice and melted another 30 seconds off the clock.
Ebbett, who has established a reputation as a playmaker with 23 assists heading into Saturday, later pushed the lead to 4-2 with his second goal of the weekend and just his fourth of the season.
“It feels really good to help the team put some pucks in the net,” Ebbett said. “I know that I’ve been getting a lot of assists lately and playing well, but it’s a load off my shoulders.”
Much of the credit, and the first star in the game, went to junior Jeff Tambellini. The left winger’s blistering slapshot created the rebound that set up Ebbett’s goal and he later put the game out of reach at 5-2, with his 16th goal of the season with just 1:50 remaining in the game.
“I think a great player made a couple of great plays Tambellini on both plays,” Notre Dame head coach Dave Poulin said. “There’s a reason he’s one of the best players in his age group in the world and he made two all-world plays. The fifth goal was tremendous. I thought he was the best player on the ice all night.”
Tambellini notched a career-high four points on two goals and two assists. Tambellini assisted on the first goal of the night and scored midway through the first period to put Michigan up 2-0.
But Notre Dame refused to quit, adding a goal by junior center Matt Amado just 19 seconds after Tambellini’s second goal. Michigan’s David Moss added an empty-net goal to make the final score 6-3.
With a stronger effort, the Fighting Irish regained some pride after Friday night’s poor performance.
“I was very proud of the way we battled and the way we played,” Poulin said. “We played very hard and that’s how we have to play as a team. That’s the type of team we are.”
Michigan has scored 119 goals in 26 conference games and is the only team in the league to pass the 100-goal mark so far this season. Notre Dame, on the other hand, is the only team in the league yet to score 50 goals in conference play, totaling just 45 after tonight’s game.
Michigan has used a balanced attack to create its offense, which was ranked second in the nation at 4.18 goals per game entering tonight’s contest. The Wolverines’ depth was on display again tonight as Porter and Moss became the seventh and eighth players on the team to score 10 goals this season.
“It’s huge,” Tambellini said of Michigan’s ability to get goals from up and down the lineup. “It makes it tough for other teams to match up with us. I talked to a couple of my friends on (Nebraska) Omaha, and they said, ‘We can’t match up with you because we can’t pick a line.’ That’s the thing about our team that is so great, any night one guy can step up, or a whole line or two lines can step up. You really can’t just concentrate on one or two guys.”
Porter and Moss joined teammates T. J. Hensick (21 goals), Tambellini (16), Milan Gajic (15), Chad Kolarik (13), Brandon Kaleniecki (11), and Eric Nystrom (10) in the 10-goal club this season.
Porter opened the scoring for Michigan just 4:55 into the first period, set up by Tambellini and Hensick cycling the puck behind the net. Moss scored in the second to put the Wolverines up 3-1, then got his 10th of the season with the empty netter.
Entering the second period down 2-0, Notre Dame fought back and outscored the Wolverines 2-1 in the period.
In fact, it took just 33 seconds for the Fighting Irish to get on the board in the second. Sophomore forward T.J. Jindra raced down the right side of the ice, with Wolverine defenseman Matt Hunwick right on his heels. Jindra hit the brakes, split Hunwick and Michigan goalie Al Montoya going left, crossed the crease dropped the puck into the net with a soft backhand.
Moss scored with a little over five minutes left in the second to push the lead back to two goals.
But the Wolverines couldn’t hold on to their 3-1 lead for long, as Victor Oreskovich brought the Fighting Irish within one goal with only 19 seconds remaining in the second. Sprinting up the left side, Oreskovich stopped at the top of the circle and fired a wrister over Montoya’s right shoulder.
Notre Dame had a golden opportunity to tie the game with the two-man advantage early in the third, but couldn’t solve Montoya.
“Al made one great save on that back-door play when it was five-on-three,” Berenson said. “He plays against our power play everyday in practice, but still he needed to make a big save for us.”
The win gives Michigan a three-point lead over Ohio State in the CCHA, with only two games remaining in the regular season.
The Wolverines outscored the Fighting Irish 29-6 during the four-game season series and look forward to an exhibition with the U.S. Under-18 team on before finishing the CCHA regular season with a home-and-home series with Bowling Green in two weeks.
Notre Dame looks to end the its regular-season conference schedule on a high note with a home-and-home series with Michigan State on the same weekend, March 4-5.
If the standings remain the same, these two teams will meet again at Yost for a three-game series in the first round of the CCHA playoffs.