MSU hockey blanks Notre Dame in 3-0 win: Analysis and reaction
EAST LANSING – Lansing State Journal sports reporter Nathaniel Bott breaks down No. 17 Michigan State's 3-0 series-opening win at home against No. 20 Notre Dame.
Michigan State and Notre Dame are two of five teams in the Big Ten separated in the standings by just three points, making the series between two of college hockey's most storied programs the most important of the season.
And on the back of home-ice advantage and a 32-save shutout from goaltender Dylan St. Cyr, the Spartans were able to find the back of the net twice in the second period before adding an late empty-net goal for a 3-0 victory to earn an immense three points in league race. MSU is now tied for third place with Michigan and Ohio State with 27 points.
MSU and Notre Dame traded chances early Friday, but the Irish got the game's first real opportunity when Spartan defenseman Christian Krygier was whistled for a five-minute major for checking from behind. Despite seven of the Irish's 11 shots in the opening period coming in that power play, MSU killed it off with relative ease.
MSU had a goal called back for offsides late in the first period, but responded just over six minutes into the second period on the power play. Freshman defenseman Matt Basgall wheeled up to the point and let a shot go that senior forward Jagger Joshua tipped in for his team-leading 12th goal of the season.
Senior forward Erik Middendorf doubled the Spartans' lead later in the second period after an aggressive forecheck led to senior forward Nico Muller throwing the puck from behind the net out in front, where Middendorf beat Notre Dame goaltender Ryan Bischel.
After a crucial MSU penalty-kill midway through the third period kept the score 2-0, Notre Dame pulled Bischel, who finished with 25 saves, with just over five minutes left looking to find anyway to beat St. Cyr. But the Irish were only able to muster one shot on net before Muller iced the game with 51 seconds left with a goal into the empty net.
Muller notched his 19th and 20th assists of the season in addition to his fourth goal.
What it means
It's a massive step forward for MSU following a disappointing road series last weekend against Minnesota. MSU jumps ahead of Notre Dame in the Big Ten standings by a point and has the opportunity to sweep on Saturday.
After a slump during the second half of the season, MSU's penalty-kill recorded its second straight game without allowing a power-play goal. The unit was at its best of the season, shutting down an early five-minute major and killing off a third-period penalty with the game still in doubt.
MSU's defensive effort was solid, mostly keeping Notre Dame's scoring chances to the outside. But St. Cyr came up big at key times, stopping two breakaway opportunities — one in each of the second and third periods.
Saturday night will be another challenge for the Spartans. The Irish are going to come out hungry looking to salvage a split, but MSU will have another full crowd — which was electric yet again on Friday — with senior night festivities to follow after the game.
What they said
MSU coach Adam Nightingale, on the game overall: "Really important win for us, being at home really energized our group against a really good Notre Dame team. I think we did a lot of good things, I thought our kill was great and we scored a power-play goal. Not done on the weekend, but it was a good effort from our guys."
Nightingale, on MSU's penalty kill: "We talked about it when we played out best hockey we had a stretch of around 30 kills in a row, and when you win the special teams battle you generally win the hockey game. We went on a stretch where we let some goals in, but we've been practicing on it and (assistant) Jared DeMichiel runs it and does a great job with it."
St. Cyr, on getting a shutout in front of a raucous Munn crowd: "Obviously it was really exciting, and down the stretch it's going to be really important. To play in front of our home crowd and that environment was really special. Getting back into it after last weekend and finding comfortability playing at home helped me find my groove better."
Muller, on playing with Middendorf and junior forward Jeremy Davidson: "When we play hungry hockey, going after the puck a lot, we tend to play a great game. Middendorf has great skill and can make great plays and Davidson has a great shot. I think we've been gelling and it's been fun playing with them."
MSU will take on Notre Dame again Saturday with puck drop scheduled for 4 p.m. The game will be televised on the Big Ten Network.
Contact Nathaniel Bott at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @Nathaniel_Bott
This article originally appeared on Lansing State Journal: MSU hockey blanks Notre Dame 3-0 win: Analysis and reaction