East Lansing - Michigan State earned its first victory of the season over a ranked team on Friday night, posting a 3-1 victory over No. 6 Notre Dame at Munn Ice Arena. Justin Abdelkader got the game-winner with under two minutes remaining in regulation for the Spartans, who got a stellar 30-save effort from Jeff Lerg to improve to 14-5-3, 10-2-1 in CCHA action. Notre Dame got its own impressive performance from Jordan Pearce (27 saves), but falls to 18-7, and 11-4 CCHA.
The game-winner came with 1:57 showing on the game clock. Mike Ratchuk's shot from the bottom of the right circle was saved by Pearce, but the rebound went straight up in the air. Both Ratchuk and Abdelkader tried to swipe at the puck in midair, but missed - the puck fell to the ice in front of the goaltender, and Abdelkader was able to find his way through the scrum in front to poke the puck past Pearce for the game-winner.
"These two teams are good teams, and evenly matched. When we play each other, they are going to be those types of games, " noted head coach Rick Comley after the team's victory. "This was our best game, I think. There have been so many games we have gone into with that expectation that we are going to win - by everybody. This one, it was a tossup going in, and I think it had good emotion. "
The teams were scoreless after the opening 20 minutes, but the period was not without excitement. MSU came out determined to set the pace, and Notre Dame generated its best chances on a pair of power-play opportunities - four of their 14 first-period shots came with a man advantage.
Matt Schepke opened the scoring four minutes into the middle frame. Brandon Gentile and Tim Crowder, both tied up with defensemen along the left wall, chipped the puck forward to Schepke below the circle. Schepke carried the puck off the wall and fired netward from the goal line, and the puck caromed off the leg pads of netminder Jordan Pearce and into the back of the net.
Dustin Gazley and Nick Sucharski each had quality scoring chances two minutes later - Gazley's offering went off the crossbar, and Sucharski's putback attempt was just wide.
Kevin Deeth got the equalizer for the Irish at 11:44. Ryan Thang shot the puck towards the slot for his centerman, who slid the puck under a sliding Justin Abdelkader through a scrum in front of the net.
Schepke's bid to push the Spartans ahead at 9:58 of the final frame was thwarted by a great play by Pearce. Schepke accepted the puck in the slot after eluding a defender, and had a one-on-one with the netminder. Pearce snagged the puck with his glove hand as Shepke went with his forehand, and the teams skated on in the deadlocked game. Notre Dame went on the man advantage less than a minute later, but could not muster a shot, extending the Irish's struggle on the man advantage to 25 consecutive tries without a goal over the last five games. They finished the night 0-for-5 on the power play.
The game had been physical throughout, and with five minutes remaining in the period, the teams engaged in some extended extracurriculars Schepke and Notre Dame's Kyle Lawson were both sent off for roughing, which put the teams at four-on-four. Deeth had the first good chance on a broken-stick effort that was saved by Jeff Lerg, and Bryan Lerg countered with a great individual effort while eluding two defenders as the final seconds ticked off the offsetting penalties. Back at full strength for the final three minutes, the Spartans got the go-ahead tally with just under two to play, then an empty-net tally from Nick Sucharski in the final minute to ice the victory.
The teams will not complete the season series until Sunday, when the teams face off at Notre Dame's Joyce Center at 4 p.m. "Now the pressure is probably on them a bit; they need to get [a win]," noted Comley. "I expect the same type of game."