Irish can't clinch vs. Spartans, setting up Game 3 Sunday

Author: Gregory McKenna

It took over 91 minutes of hockey this weekend for Michigan State to beat Notre Dame goalie Ryan Bischel. 

After the Spartans went ahead 2-1 in the second period Saturday, however, roles were reversed from Friday, when the Irish found a second period goal and then went into a shell for the final 20 minutes. A heroic performance from Bischel put the Irish one win away from the Big Ten Tournament semifinals and, likely, a spot in the NCAA Tournament. 

This time, it was Notre Dame’s turn to take the game to the Spartans and the Michigan State netminder, former Irish goalie Dylan St. Cyr. 

It was Notre Dame’s turn to find a tying goal. 

Instead, Michigan State scored twice in the opening five-and-half minutes of the third period and hung on for a 4-2 victory, setting up a deciding Game 3 at Compton Family Ice Arena Sunday night. Bischel, who made 28 saves, gave up four goals for the first time since a 6-4 win over Wisconsin in early January. 

Irish entered Saturday No. 12 in the PairWise rankings, a major metric for selecting the field of the 16-team NCAA Tournament. Take care of business at home Saturday and the Irish were, in all likelihood, in. 

Instead, the Spartans stormed back from a 1-0 deficit after the first period to extend their season, spoiling the party for most of the 5,198 people who packed Compton for Notre Dame’s 11th straight home sellout. 

Notre Dame outshot the Spartans 25-16 in the second and third periods, but St. Cyr — who played for the Irish from 2017-2020 — finished with 31 saves. With the win, the Spartans improved to 3-2-1 against the Irish this season.

“(Michigan State) played more desperate than us, and that's what it boils down to,” Irish head coach Jeff Jackson said. “I mean, (Michigan State’s) season (is) on the line, and we didn't match that and now tomorrow we're gonna have to. So, simple as that.” 

Much like the third period Friday night — when the Spartans were desperately in search of a tying goal — Notre Dame goalie Ryan Bischel found himself under siege. The most impressive of his 16 first period saves came just over five minutes in, the senior from Medina, Minn. denying Tiernan Shoudy on a 2-on-1 opportunity before getting his left pad to a rebound from Tanner Kelly. 

Before Solag Bakich put the Irish ahead 17:13  into the period, the Spartans had been  outshooting the Irish 34-5 since the third period Friday. Momentum quickly shifted at the end of the period, however. Shortly after Jack Adams put his shot fide after going face-to-face with Spartans goalie St. Cyr, the Irish caught the Spartans making a change. 

Defenseman Ben Brinkman threaded a pass up the ice to Solag Bakich, who raced in uncontested with Trevor Janicke to his right. Bakich exchanged a quick give-and-go with Janicke before tapping into an empty net. Michigan State challenged the play for too many men on the ice (the postgame box score listed an extra Irish skater on the ice as well), but the goal, just Bakich’s third of the season, stood. 

“I was really happy with that line,” Jackson said of Bakich, Janicke, Brinkman, Jesse Lansdell and Drew Bavaro. “They played well tonight. We need the other lines to play up to that same level.” 

Notre Dame turned the shot differential around but failed to convert on power plays at both the end of the first and beginning of the second period. Friday night goalscorer Grant Silianoff was called for boarding at 7:26 in the period, and Michigan State made their first power play opportunity count. 

Jeremy Davidson became the first Spartan of the weekend to beat Bischel, scoring at 8:38 in the period after a cross-ice pass from Nicolas Muller, who leads the Spartans with 24 assists. David Gucciardi, who led all skaters with five blocked shots Saturday, was also credited with an assist. 

“The whole game changed when we took the penalty in the second period,” Jackson said. “They scored on the power play and the whole game changed from that point on.” 

Matt Basgall beat Bischel eight minutes later after a period of sustained Michigan State pressure. Nash Nienhuis and Karsen Dorwart both beat Bischel glove side, the latter from an especially tight angle for his 10th goal of the season, in the third period to effectively put the game out of reach.

Adams clawed a goal back on the power play, beating St. Cyr with a slap shot from the point with just under 6:30 left. The Irish first pulled Bischel for an extra skater with five minutes to go, but the Spartans held on to force Game 3. 

When the puck drops Sunday at 6:00 p.m., Jackson knows the Irish can’t afford another slow start. 

“(Michigan State) are very aggressive,” he said, complaining that the Irish wings need to win more pucks along the boards to prevent Notre Dame from getting stuck in its own zone. 

The Irish lost to the Spartans at home for the first time this season on Saturday. Notre Dame can not afford a second if it wants to extend its season past Sunday.