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Neil’s Notebook: Notre Dame's Second-Period Outburst Does in Spartans

Feb. 24, 2018

By Neil Koepke staff writer

NOTRE DAME, Ind. – Michigan State won the battle of the third period, outshooting Notre Dame 13-7.

But, oh, that second period. One to forget and one the Spartans haven’t experienced most of the season.

How bad was it?

Notre Dame scored five goals in 15 minutes, taking advantage of several MSU turnovers and other mistakes.

The No. 5-ranked Irish built a 6-1 lead after 40 minutes and went on to a 6-3 Big Ten series-opening victory over the Spartans in front of a near-sellout crowd of 4,460 on Friday night at Compton Family Arena.

Notre Dame (23-8-2 overall, 17-5-1-1) Big Ten) scored on three breakaways, two point-blank shots and one rebound. One goal was shorthanded, one came on a power play.

Two goals in the second-period barrage came within 16 seconds, giving the Irish a 5-1 lead.

“We haven’t had a game like this where a lot went wrong and got away from us,’’ MSU coach Danton Cole said. “We’ve played in a lot of tight games. But I liked our response in the third period.’’

Despite all the negatives, the Spartans (11-20-2 overall, 5-16-2-1 Big Ten) had 38 shots on goal, their second-highest total of the season and most against a Big Ten opponent. MSU outshot Notre Dame 13-7 in the final 20 minutes.

And junior defenseman Zach Osburn scored two goals – the first from the left point six minutes into the second period to cut the deficit to 2-1 and the second from the right point midway through the third period.

Brennan Sanford scored MSU’s other goal – shorthanded early in the third period.

“There were a lot of things we did well in the first 10 minutes and most of the first period,’’ Cole said. “Our guys did a good job with our pace and persistence and putting pucks on net.



“The second was a funny period. We made a lot of mistakes and unforced errors but I’ll give Notre Dame credit. But we throw that (pass) up the middle and it turns into a breakaway. That kind of thing kept going.’’

Down 1-0 and on a power play to start the second period, Notre Dame’s top scorer, Jake Evans, intercepted an MSU pass from the right point into the middle of the ice. He raced in on a breakaway and beat Spartan goalie John Lethemon 37 seconds into the period.

After Osburn’s screen shot from the left point eluded Notre Dame goalie Cale Morris to get the Spartans back in the game, trailing 2-1, at 5:52, the Irish replied quickly on defenseman Andrew Peeke’s goal from the slot at 6:52.

After the ensuring faceoff, left wing Cam Morrison created a turnover in the neutral zone, setting up his own breakaway and then put in his own rebound for an unassisted goal at 7:10 and a 4-1 lead, 16 seconds after their third goal.

Lethemon was replaced by senior Ed Minney, who gave up goals later in the period on a rebound on a power play by Joe Wegwerth at 11:22 and by Morrison on a breakaway at 15:47 to complete the five-goal outburst.

“We have to clean up a few things and manage the puck better because in all those goals, we had the puck on our sticks and had a chance to make a play,’’ Cole said. “We have to read the rush better.’’

Michigan State and Notre Dame, the Big Ten’s regular-season champion which ended a three-game losing streak Friday, close out the regular season and weekend series at 7 p.m. Saturday on Senior Night for the Irish.

Cole liked the way his team responded in the third period and kept the game from getting ugly. The Spartans were intense, competed hard, scored two goals and could have a couple others.

“We talked about it before the third period. We said ‘take a deep breath and let’s get back at it. We’re not a bad hockey team and let’s get back to our game and see what happens’. They did a great job and pushed right to the end.

“I said there’s four periods left this weekend. Let’s win every one of them. We scored two goals, we could have had three or four. “There were seven seconds left (in the game) and Taro (Hirose) had the puck coming out from behind our net and we went down and got two shots on net.’’

MSU’s goaltenders combined for 27 saves – 13 for Lethemon in 27 minutes and 10 seconds of work and 14 for Minney, who played 32 minutes and 50 seconds. The Spartans went 0-for-2 on the power play while the Irish were 1-for-3.

“I love these guys,’’ Cole said. “They battle, they’re not perfect but they’ve handled a lot of adversity, and tonight was a weird one but they kept battling.’’

The Spartans hope they can repeat the way they played in the first half of the opening period and most of the third period in Saturday’s final tune-up before the playoffs.

“We won the third period and did some good things and we’ll carry that into tomorrow’s game,’’ Osburn said after doubling his season goal total from two to four. “Hopefully, we get some good momentum from that.’’

Osburn led the Spartans with six shots on goal. His two-goal game was the second of his three-season career. He scored twice in his first game as a freshman in a 3-3 tie against Maine in the 2015-16 season opener in a tournament in Portland, Maine.

“We did some good things but we there was a gap in the second period where we kind of lost track of how we play and what kind of team we are,’’ Osburn said. “We were turning the puck over too much. We made a couple bad turnovers, missed a pass, gave up a power-play goal where we probably should have gotten the puck out but didn’t.

“If we want to come out and beat a team like that, we need to do the little things. We have to get pucks out and make simple plays in our own zone. We didn’t tonight and it cost us.’’

Carson Gatt, MSU’s lone senior defenseman and one of three assistant captains, summed up the Spartans’ night:

“The first and third periods were really good. But that second period. . . things really got away from us. We made a good response but you never want to be in that position.’’

KHL LINE SHUT DOWN: Notre Dame did a good job of containing Michigan State’s top three scorers – the KHL line of Patrick Khodorenko centering Taro Hirose and Mitchell Lewandowski.

They combined for five shots on goal – none in the opening period – but were held pointless.

Hirose finished with four shots on goal, Lewandowski had one and Khodorenko had none.

Both Hirose and Khodorenko had five-game point streaks stopped on Friday.

Defenseman Zach Osburn had two goals and six shots on goal. Left wing Brennan Sanford, who scored a shorthanded goal in the third period, had five shots on net. Hirose was next with four, while defenseman Carson Gatt and center Sam Saliba had three apiece.

GOALIE CHANGE: After John Lethemon gave up Notre Dame’s fourth goal at 7:10 of the second period, Coach Danton Cole pulled Lethemon for senior Ed Minney.

For sure, Lethemon wasn’t having one of his best games, but the Spartan coach also wanted to shake things up and try to halt Notre Dame’s momentum.

“The tide was going the wrong way. We hung (Lethemon) out to dry,’’ Cole said. “We hoped to get a couple of saves to keep us in it while we were screwing up in front of him.

“I told him, ‘That’s on us.’ It’s 4-1 and it was a good chance to get Ed in there. He gave us some life and was really good in the third period.’’

Minney gave up two goals – on a power play to Joe Wegwerth on a rebound in front after Minney made a save on a shot from the point, and after he made a breakaway save on Cam Morrison and Morrison flipped in the rebound.

THIS AND THAT: The five goals allowed by MSU in the second period are the most in any period this season. The previous high was four against Penn State in a 7-2 loss on Nov. 24 in State College, Pa. That’s also the most goals the Spartans have given up all season. They’ve allowed six goals three times – vs. Wisconsin in a 6-3 home loss on Nov. 10 and against Michigan in a 6-4 loss in the third-place game of the GLI in Detroit on Jan. 2, and now vs. Notre Dame . . .

In 33 games, Michigan State has allowed 104 goals – 32 in the first period, 35 in the second, 37 in the third and none in overtime. The Spartans’ goals-against average is 3.15, which is tied for sixth in the Big Ten with Wisconsin and just behind Penn State (3.08) . . .

Notre Dame’s six goals on Friday tie its highest output of the season. The Irish also scored six in a 6-2 win at Wisconsin on Dec. 9. They rank fifth in the Big Ten with an average of 2.94 goals per game. Minnesota, known for a high-powered offense in most seasons, is No. 6 with a 2.63 average, just a little more than No. 7 MSU at 2.48 goals per game.

IN THE BIG TEN: It was a crazy night for offense in the Big Ten and the nation (see below) on Friday as Ohio State and Notre Dame each scored six goals and Penn State broke loose for five. The Nittany Lions kept their hopes for a home playoff berth alive with a 5-1 victory over Minnesota while been credited with 67 shots on goal by PSU stat keepers. Penn State took a 2-1 lead into the third period and scored three unanswered goals, outshooting the Gophers, 14-4.

With third place attainable for Minnesota and fourth place still in reach for Penn State, the Nittany Lions had 21 shots on goal in the first period and 26 in the second.

Minnesota goalie Mat Robson allowed four goals and made 55 saves before being replaced by Eric Schierhorn at 11:30 of the third period. Schierhorn made one save and allowed one goal.

With the victory - and Wisconsin’s 6-2 defeat at Ohio State, Penn State is in sole possession of fifth place with 31 points and two behind fourth-place Minnesota (33).

The Nittany Lions can finish fourth and get home ice for next weekend’s first-round, best-of-three playoff series with a victory in Saturday’s rematch against the Gophers. Minnesota needs just one point – a tie – to finish ahead of PSU and grab the fourth spot.

If PSU wins, it will host Minnesota against next week in the first round of the playoffs. If the Gophers win the series finale and Wisconsin loses, Minnesota will play Penn State in Minneapolis.

But if the Nittany Lions lose on Saturday and Wisconsin wins at OSU, they’ll finish in a tie with the Badgers for fifth place and they’ll slide to the sixth seed for the playoffs because of the second tiebreaker – conference victories (9 for Wisconsin, 8 for PSU). The first tiebreaker is head-to-head play. But the teams split their season series at 1-1-2 so you move to the next tiebreaker.

Meanwhile, the Badgers took a 2-1 lead into the third period against Ohio State, but the Buckeyes exploded for five unanswered goals and rolled to a 6-2 victory. Tanner Laczynski scored twice in the third period and Dakota Joshua also had two goals for the Buckeyes.

Ohio State clinched second place last weekend and will host Michigan State in the playoffs next weekend.

With Minnesota losing, Michigan will finish third and play the No. 6 seed – Wisconsin or Penn State – at home.

The Wolverines played a non-conference game Friday against Arizona State at Yost Arena, winning 5-3. U-M built a 4-1 but the Sun Devils scored twice in the third period and the Wolverines had to hang on for the win, with their last goal into an empty net in the last minute.

GOALS, GOALS, GOALS: It was a great night for offense and a tough night for defense and goaltenders on Friday with lots of high-scoring games throughout the nation.

In the NCHA, Minnesota-Duluth routed Western Michigan, 8-0, in Kalamazoo. In Hockey East, Northeastern was an 8-0 winner over New Hampshire in Boston.

In other high-scoring contests, Boston College topped Maine, 6-3; Army blanked Sacred Heart, 6-0; Brown defeated Harvard, 6-4 and Dartmouth skated past Yale, 6-4.

But in the NCHC showdown, No. 1 St. Cloud State and No. 3 Denver played to a 1-1 tie in St. Cloud, Minn. Denver tied the game with 3:27 left, and after a scoreless regulation overtime, the Pioneers scored in the 3-on-3 overtime to earn two points in the NCHC standings while St. Cloud came away with one.

The Huskies remain in first place in the NCHC with 46 points while Denver is four points back with three league games remaining for both teams.

After Friday’s games, St. Cloud State remained No. 1 in the PairWise Rankings, Notre Dame and Cornell were tied for second and Minnesota State and Denver were tied for No. 4. Those teams are competing for one of four No. 1 seeds in the NCAA Tournament.

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