EAST LANSING, Mich. — Down 2-0 heading into third period, a desperate Michigan State team exploded for three goals in the third to beat Notre Dame, 3-2, keeping its hopes for CCHA home-ice playoff spot alive.
The Spartans piggy-backed a pair of power-play goals by Drew Miller and Jim McKenzie to draw even halfway through the final period, but a thunderous hit by Corey Potter broke a pane of glass and caused a 22-minute delay, leaving State uncertain as to whether it could maintain the giant swing in the momentum.
“When the glass broke at 2-2, you’re going, ‘Oh, no, there [goes the momentum],’” said MSU Coach Rick Comley.
“Everybody on the bench was wondering if we were going to keep this momentum,” said Potter. “We just got those two big goals, and everybody on the bench was wondering what would happen after that.”
Senior captain Jim Slater called the team to a huddle before play resumed and told his teammates that this night would not be his last game in Munn Arena.
“We pulled down there and said, ‘We’re coming back here next weekend and we got to get it done.’ I was just trying to get the momentum back and it seemed to work,” said Slater.
Slater, just the sixth Spartan to wear the ‘C’ for two seasons, ended up answering his own call on senior night by coming through with the game winner just over two minutes after play resumed, carrying the puck through center ice and unleashing a wrister that beat David Brown five-hole to lift the Spartans to victory.
One season removed from being selected a Hobey Baker finalist, many have questioned Slater’s production, but the senior seems to be right on par with the expectations of Comley and his teammates.
“People look at him and say that his numbers aren’t Hobey Baker category, but I can’t imagine anybody any more valuable to a team than he is,” said Comley.
“He’s led us in every aspect of the game,” said Miller. “So I have a lot of respect for him,”
Slater’s tally was a perfect bookend on Slater’s career as a Spartan. In his first collegiate game, Slater scored a desperation game-tying goal in the Cold War game against Michigan. Tonight, he put an exclamation point on his senior night with a goal that may propel the Spartans to home ice.
Slater also registered two helpers on the night to reach the 40-point mark for the third consecutive season. Considering the Spartans’ goal-scoring woes, his numbers this year may be more impressive at the close of the season than his 50-point campaign of a year ago.
Although Michigan State was the team fighting for playoff position, it was Notre Dame that came out with something to prove. The Irish broke a quiet game open in a hurry with two goals in three minutes at the midway point.
The 2-0 lead for the Irish was their first since November, and just the second time theyve notched the first goal of the game in their last 13 contests.
The uncharacteristic outburst for Notre Dame came from two equally unlikely goal scorers. Chris Trick struck first, slipping a wrist shot through a screened Dominic Vicari to earn his fourth goal in 92 career games. Tim Wallace doubled the lead on the business end of a two-on-one, roofing the puck for his 13th goal in 113 contests.
During the second intermission, Comley let his Spartans know that their lethargy would cost them a chance to play at home.
“If anything you want to be more pumped up [on senior night] but we just started off awful,” said Slater. “It continued through the second period and Coach came in and reamed us out and then we started to pick it up in the third.”
Comley said, “The thing you fear when you’ve had to fight for your life do they get to the point where the battle just doesn’t come out I was a little worried that tonight that would be the case.
“I was just trying to get emotion going. We’ve got seven seniors in there and sometimes everyone else is waiting for them to do something. Obviously we’ve become a team where we need our underclassmen to be the ones to score.”
As the hockey maxim goes, one goal will get you two, and that’s exactly what happened for the Spartans. Miller put State back in the game with a much-needed power-play goal on a power move in front of the goal. Just six minutes later, McKenzie scored on the man advantage, continuing his tear of late with his eighth goal in as many games.
“If you take a too many men on the ice penalty it almost always comes back to haunt you,” said Notre Dame coach Dave Poulin. “We played well enough to win, got good goaltending, but special teams have been a downfall for us all year.”
McKenzie and Miller have been heroes for Michigan State in the chase for home ice over the last three weeks. McKenzie turned a hat trick in the Spartans’ dismantling of Ohio State two weeks ago while Drew Miller lifted MSU to an emotional victory over Bowling Green with a four point night.
Notre Dame pulled its goaltender and had a few cracks at tying things up with the extra attacker, but a relatively untested Vicari came up with two game savers as the clock ran out on the Irish.
Brown finished with 26 saves on 29 shots in a losing effort while Vicari stopped 17 of 19 for the win. The 3-2 victory marked just the third time all season and first time in conference play that Michigan State was able to win a one-goal game.
After a Miami loss against Ohio State, the Spartans control their own destiny. A win Saturday night on the road against the Irish will give Michigan State home ice. MSU, Miami, and Fairbanks currently sit in a three-way tie for the final slot, but the Spartans own a tie-breaker against the RedHawks and Nanooks have already completed their league schedule. Notre Dame’s chance to play the spoiler, however, is not over just yet. A Spartan loss will take them out of the running.