EAST LANSING, Mich. — It took four games, but the Spartans finally got the better of the Fighting Irish. With Andrew Rowe’s lone shootout goal, Michigan State took the extra point as Notre Dame and MSU skated to a 4-4 tie in their final regular-season meeting this year.
For the Irish and the Spartans, tonight’s game was very nearly like recent history repeating itself. One night after Notre Dame overcame a two-goal deficit to score five unanswered goals to beat Michigan State 5-2 in South Bend, the Irish came back from three down to take a 4-3 lead until Derek Grant’s power-play goal at 17:39 in the third sent this one to OT.
“I think they’re tougher to play against than anyone,” said MSU coach Rick Comley. “Last night, we had the two-nothing lead, but didn’t really play that great, and they took it away. Tonight, I thought for 30 minutes, we played as well as we did all year. Then we took some penalties we didn’t need to take, young mistakes, and they got some good breaks.”
The Spartans’ penalties were what opened the door for the Irish in the second period, and three of Notre Dame’s four goals came with the man advantage, including both of Ryan Thang’s markers tonight.
“We fell behind and put ourselves in a big hole,” said Notre Dame coach Jeff Jackson. “Brad Phillips gave us a chance to get back into the game and our guys did a nice job on special teams most of the night, so it was good to see us respond.”
The Spartans were up 3-0 by the five-minute mark of the second period on goals by Nick Sucharski, Daultan Leveille and Brett Perlini. Sucharski scored just 1:06 into the first period, an innocent, slow shot from the bottom of the left circle that caught the far corner of the net and took starting Irish goaltender Mike Johnson by surprise.
Leveille scored at 16:42 in the first, another puck that took an unexpected path to the net. Leveille drove to the net through the left circle, tailed by ND defender Kyle Lawson. As Leveille shot, the puck went off of Lawson’s stick and behind Johnson into the net on the short side to make it 2-0 after one.
Perlini’s goal at 4:30 in the second gave the Spartans their 3-0 lead, a shot from the blue line that hit Johnson’s left skate and went in. That was the end of the night for Johnson.
“I thought that the first two goals definitely should have been stopped,” said Jackson. “I’ve worked with Mike on those bad-angle shots a lot…and I thought he looked nervous. I don’t want him to lose his confidence. He’s played some great games for us, but I don’t think he was real sharp to start the game.”
The change in net changed the tone of the game. At 5:11, Spartan Zach Josepher was called for slashing. At 6:39, ND’s Riley Sheahan was called for obstruction-hooking and his target, Jeff Petry, whistled for embellishment.
When Perlini was called for obstruction-tripping at 11:30, it only took the Irish 1:12 to capitalize on the penalty. With the Spartans’ penalty kill scrambling for position, Calle Ridderwall walked right up to the Spartans’ net to challenge Bobby Jarosz and popped the puck in low and clean on the right side to make it a 3-1 game.
At 18:12 in the second, Thang was credited with the first of his two power-play goals when Ian Cole’s shot from the slot took a funny bounce off the Zamboni door and ricocheted off Thang’s skate and into the net, cutting the Spartans’ lead to a goal going into the third.
The Irish rolled that momentum into their game-tying goal at the start of the third when Ben Ryan scored 37 seconds in on a cross-crease pass from Brent Blatchford, and at 4:51, Thang scored his second of the night when he sent the puck up and over Jarosz’ right shoulder to give Notre Dame a 4-3 lead.
Grant’s goal from Tropp and Petry at 17:39 in the third tied it 4-4. Irish defenseman Joe Lavin stopped the initial shot, but the puck came directly back to Grant, who finished the play by tucking it in clean behind Phillips.
In the shootout, Rowe was the only player for either team to score. He skated up the middle, moved to the right, made Phillips commit away from the goalmouth and put the puck in behind the Irish goaltender to give the Spartans two points on the night and three points total in their four games against the Irish this season.
After the game, each coach said that he could see the positive in the weekend.
Comley called his team “a work in progress” and said that the weekend required perspective. “This is a very, very young team and it’s not there yet,” said Comley. “We have trouble with Notre Dame in the best of times.”
“Last night we were down two-nothing and tonight we were down three-nothing, and for us to be able to come back and even get a point out of it was pretty impressive,” said Jackson.
“We play a road game and come out with a tie. We’ve got a chance to win it and they scored a nice power-play goal when it mattered the most at the end, but regardless it’s a multiple-point weekend for us, which we need to have.”
The Irish were three-for-seven on the power play tonight, the Spartans one-for-four. For Notre Dame, Johnson had seven saves on 10 shots and Phillips stopped 19-of-20. Jarosz made 28 saves on 32 shots in the tie.
Next weekend, Notre Dame (10-10-6, 6-7-5 CCHA) travel to Sault Ste. Marie for two games against Lake Superior State, while the Spartans (15-7-4, 10-4-4 CCHA) host Ohio State for two.