For the second straight week, Michigan State ice hockey split a two-game road series with a conference opponent. This time, though, it was against the No. 8 team in the country, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish.
Notre Dame secured the first win of the series in a game that felt like it belonged in the playoffs.
Michigan State came out firing in the first period, taking a 2-0 lead less than two minutes in. Typically, a successful MSU victory is marked by sound defense and fantastic goaltending — this was not the case through the first twenty minutes. The Spartans punched the Irish in the mouth, consistently forcing Notre Dame into the defensive zone, peppering the goaltender with shots and tossing the Irish onto the ropes.
But there is a reason Notre Dame is a top ten team. The Fighting Irish came out hungry in the second, looking to dispose of their unranked opponent. Notre Dame scored just over seven minutes in, and subsequently found the equalizing goal on the power play less than five minutes later.
The two teams entered the second period with two goals apiece. Notre Dame scored the game winner eight minutes into the third, clinging onto that one-goal lead to earn a 3-2 victory.
Both squads seemed to have used up all their offense Friday night, as Saturday’s matchup was a goaltending showdown. There was not a point scored for either team in regulation.
The game-winning goal was scored in overtime by the Spartans point leader, fifth year forward Mitchell Lewandowski, who sliced his way into the Irish defensive zone straight to the slot, letting off a rocket of a wrist-shot for the win. Senior goaltender Drew DeRidder was characteristically stellar in the crease, stopping all 30 shots on goal and earning his second shutout of the season.
With the weekend split, Michigan State is still in fifth place in the Big Ten standings, just one point behind Notre Dame.
The Spartans are now 18th in the pairwise rankings, which is right on the edge of tournament appearance where 16 teams make it. Since losing both home and away games with Michigan, State is doing exactly what it needs to do: splitting road series and sweeping at home.
With Michigan eight points ahead in the Big Ten standings, a run at the regular season conference title is unlikely for Michigan State. However, there is a good chance that MSU will be vying for a home game in the Big Ten tournament down the stretch, as well as a spot in the NCAA Tournament.
Michigan State will get a few weeks of rest for the holidays. The Spartans will pick the season back up with a couple of home games in the Great Lake Invitational, hosting Western Michigan on Dec. 29 and Michigan Tech on Dec. 30.
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