EAST LANSING, Mich. — Drew Miller tipped home a David Booth slapshot with 5:29 remaining, leading Michigan State to a 2-1 victory over visiting Notre Dame on Saturday.
“I didn’t even know it went in until I heard the crowd,” said Miller. “The tip was on my forehand and I was able to get it up and over the goalie’s shoulder.”
With the score knotted at 1-1, it seemed the Spartans were headed for a school-record 11th overtime game and yet another tie, but Miller’s heroics gave MSU the win, completing a critical weekend sweep and netting four points to be used in an increasingly tight CCHA race.
“The best thing about this weekend was taking four points plain and simple,” said MSU coach Rick Comley. “It does not matter how you get them. We found a way to win and it’s much better to win ugly than lose pretty.”
For an idea of just how much of a swing a sweep can be, four points currently separate the second-place Spartans from eighth place.
Michigan State had plenty of reasons to pack things in late in the third period. After fighting off bad penalties, the Spartans hit the left post three times in the final frame.
“We’ve been battle-tested, we’ve been through a lot of tough games they knew it wasn’t their best hockey game and [it] was sitting there to be won or lost,” said Comley.
Before Miller’s game-winner, video replay could not persuade referee Craig Lisko that the captain had knocked one past Brown on a rebound.
“There was zero chance that one was going to count,” said Comley. “We never expected a goal on that one.”
For the second night in a row, Notre Dame did a sound job of dictating the tempo of the game. The Irish kept things tight defensively and neutralized the Spartans’ speed and skill.
“I was pretty pleased with our effort tonight,” said Notre Dame coach Jeff Jackson. “I thought we were much better at executing our game plan than last night. I’d rather play an up-tempo style, but we have to play a game that will give us a chance to win.”
Booth opened the scoring, tipping home an Ethan Graham shot past goaltender David Brown and into the net. The goal extended Booth’s scoring streak to nine games.
The senior forward seems to be coming into his own, especially in his new role on the point on the MSU power play.
“He gives it up, he receives it, and he can shoot it,” said Comley. “That has been a great group for us, and that was a great shot.”
After Booth’s tally, the Spartans had opportunities to expand their lead in the middle frame, but failed to do so. The most notable was a five-on-three toward the midpoint of the period, but MSU only controlled for one brief possession before Tim Crowder was whistled for interference battling for possession along the Irish blue line, short-circuiting the two-man advantage.
Although Notre Dame is 1-13-0 on the season when allowing the first goal, the Irish stuck to their game plan, clogged the neutral zone and patiently waited for an opportunity to counterpunch.
Finally, with just 43 seconds left in the second period, Notre Dame struck back. Five seconds after an Irish power play expired, Erik Condra beat netminder Jeff Lerg with a shot from a tough angle below the bottom of the left faceoff circle.
“That’s my best friend,” said Lerg. “I knew he was going to score on me. He scored the most out of anyone on me in juniors and I heard about all summer. I knew he was going to shoot it, that’s his game he’s usually the one getting goals off his skates or he’s not looking and he gets one off of his back, but I’ll be hearing about this one all summer long.”
Although Condra will have a chuckle on Lerg’s behalf, the Spartans got the last laugh this weekend. MSU will look to continue its unbeaten streak against Ohio State on Thursday while Notre Dame has a home-and-home with Ferris State.