SOUTH BEND, Indiana — Michigan State’s hockey program took a huge step forward Sunday night.
The Spartans won their first-ever Big Ten tournament series, scoring three unanswered goals and earning a 4-2 win over Notre Dame in Game 3 of their best-of-3 series.
“It was awesome, and the guys did a hell of a job. It’s only the second time in Big Ten history that the road team has won, so get one down and come back and hang on, c was huge for our program,” MSU coach Adam Nightingale said. “Notre Dame is a quality program, and I thought it was their best game of the series. We had a bit of a bend, but that’s what it’s about at this time of year. , you have to find a way to win.”
MSU will now travel to face No. 1 seed Minnesota next Saturday in a one-game semifinal for a berth in the Big Ten tournament final.
Notre Dame’s Justin Janicke opened the scoring for Notre Dame on the power play just over five minutes into the game. But senior MSU forward Nico Muller responded later in the first period by jumping on a loose puck from a blocked shot and sending it over the glove of Notre Dame goaltender Ryan Bischel.
It was Muller who put the Spartans ahead in the second period, earning a tie in the offensive zone and immediately sending the puck into the crease, where junior forward Jeremy Davidson charged and placed the puck past a sprawling Bischel for a 2-1 lead.
“We were on the same page, and I was telling him during the TV timeout that I was going to do it,” Muller said. “We didn’t plan it before the game, but I felt right for it and it worked out.”
MSU extended their lead to two after a point shot from defender Nash Nienhuis hit MSU’s Miroslav Mucha as he headed for the net. The deflection put Bischel out of position, and freshman forward Tiernan Shoudy was able to quickly find the rebound and put it away.
Notre Dame’s Hunter Strand scored on the power play with 3:23 left to make it 3-2 and drew the Notre Dame crowd as hard as it has in all series. But with the goalie shot, Muller took possession of the ball in the defensive zone and kicked the puck down the length of the ice, where it sank into the empty net to give MSU a 4-2 lead.
“It was a great team performance and we were working for each other,” Muller said. “It was a really fun game, and I think it means a lot to us. We worked so hard, and after getting the empty net it was really good.”
MSU goaltender Dylan St. Cyr made a number of important saves in the final stretch, including a stretch pad save on Notre Dame forward Grant Silianoff that would have reduced the Irish deficit to one with plenty of time to find an equaliser.
St. Cyr, who played his first four collegiate seasons at Notre Dame, finished with 37 saves and had back-to-back wins over his former team.
“I never thought my best games (at Notre Dame) would be green and white, and it was great to get that win with Michigan State,” St. Cyr said. “We knew we played really well in the first game and some rebounds weren’t going to us, but we’re a process-oriented team and we stuck with it and it showed in the last two games. “
Muller, who had just six points all last season, finished with two goals and an assist to give him a team-leading 34 points this season. Davidson has now scored in back-to-back games and Shoudy, who had been a disruptor in every series, was rewarded with his sixth goal of the season.
MSU players have preached all season that Nightingale practices are tougher than actual games, and the conditioning and intensity of those practices certainly helped the Spartans to a three-game-in-three-day streak.
“It had a 100 percent impact, and I think it’s something you can control and your body is capable of doing more than sometimes you realize,” Nightingale said. “Our university supports us in a great way and we are able to feed our guys well and get the treatment they need to stay healthy. It’s really exciting for the guys to see success when we trains like this, it counts.”
MSU went 0-4 against Minnesota this season, but has a chance to rectify that next Saturday at 9 p.m. and further bolster its NCAA tournament chances. The Spartans will likely still need some teams to stumble in their respective conference tournaments, but MSU has moved up to 16th in the Pairwise standings.
Contact Nathaniel Bott at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @Nathaniel_Bott