SOUTH BEND Ind. – Sometimes a hot goaltender and a fair share of puck luck can go a long way in playoff hockey. Even with Michigan State playing one of its best periods all season in the third period Friday night at Compton Ice Arena, it all amounted to a doughnut on the scoreboard.
Notre Dame senior goaltender Ryan Bischel made an excellent 36 saves and had the perfect mix of some timely bounces that narrowly kept multiple pucks from landing in the back of the net behind him. MSU, meanwhile, had the necessary goaltending and defense, but skated away with a 1-0 loss despite hellacious offensive pressure in the third period.
Instead, a lone goal in the second period from Notre Dame junior forward Grant Silianoff at 16:13 made the difference. All the Fighting Irish needed was a harmless shot toward the net and a smack of the stick in midair.
“It wasn't really much that I thought I could do on that and it was a good play out of a weird bounce,” Michigan State graduate transfer goaltender Dylan St. Cyr said.
Michigan State head hockey coach Adam Nightingale said he liked how MSU looked in the first and third periods, but it was the second period that bit them. The Spartans came out buzzing in the first period, jumping out to a 6-0 shot advantage. But the Fighting Irish weathered the storm, eventually settling in and keeping the contest scoreless through the first period.
“In the second (period), I thought we played slower and kind of weren't supporting the puck super well,” Nightingale said.
MSU then turned the energy back up in the third period after a sluggish second period, outshooting Notre Dame 18-2. A handful of those shots were dangerous scoring chances produced from different lines that just barely stayed out of the net.
First, freshman forward Tiernan Shoudy was sprung on a breakaway on a perfect stretch pass from junior defenseman Nash Nienhuis. Shoudy made a nifty move first faking a shot, then switching from his backhand to his forehand, but lost a clean handle of the puck in the process and pushed it just wide of the net.
“I had an open net too, so (it) kind of sucks,” Shoudy said after the game.
Then, Michigan State earned a power play late in the third period. Freshman forward Daniel Russell was left unmarked, corralled the puck in front of Bischel, forcing him to drop to his knees. Russell elevated the puck with his backhand above Bischel’s pad, but it was just a hair too high and ricochetted of the crossbar. It was so close the officials reviewed the play to confirm it didn’t cross the line.
Michigan State pulled St. Cyr with under two minutes to play, and Shoudy again nearly found the equalizer after a steal and rifled shot that trickled through Bischel’s crease.
Like how Nightingale has emphasized not dwelling in the past regarding Michigan State’s now 0-14 record all-time in the Big Ten Tournament, he said there was a similar message on the bench Friday night as MSU kept pounding Notre Dame with promising, yet failing, scoring chances.
“I think that's part of the foundation we're trying to lay here,” Nightingale said. “It's not about what happens if the puck goes in or not. It's about your next shift. We've talked to our guys all year and they've done a great job of buying into that.
“Things are not always gonna go your way. That's why I think when you watch our team play in the third period push like that, that's a product of that type of mindset.”
Most importantly, however, it meant a loss that gave the Spartans one last life for a season that brought energy and excitement back to the program. MSU has its back against the wall, and another strong performance from Bischel on Saturday evening could result in the series not reaching a Sunday tiebreaker.
All three of Nightingale, Shoudy and St. Cyr echoed that not much needs to be changed. Rather, they hope to build off the dominant third period that executed well on the forecheck, and brought pucks in deep offensively rather than skimming around the perimeter.
“I think we need to just kind of continue to stick on the chances, make sure we get guys in front of Bischel,” St. Cyr said. “Obviously he's been playing well as of late, so kind of creating traffic and getting those bounces that they maybe got on their goals.”