SOUTH BEND — Freshman Spencer Stastney’s biggest point of the season ended up big for the No. 16 Notre Dame hockey team Friday night.
Getting a chance on the Notre Dame power play because of an injury to leading scorer Bobby Nardella, Stastney’s shot from the point hit off the inside of center Mike O’Leary’s right thigh.
The puck then trickled past Michigan State goalie John Lethenmon at 2:28 of the third period to give Notre Dame a 1-0 victory in the opening game of the their Big Ten Conference first-round playoff series before 4,177 at the Compton Family Ice Arena.
Junior goalie Cale Morris made 27 saves for his third shutout of the season as the Irish, No. 15 in this week’s Pairwise Rankings for the NCAA Tournament, moved to 19-13-3. The Irish and Spartans (12-18-5) continue their best-of-three series Saturday night at 7. If a third game is needed, it will be played Sunday night at 7.
Lethemon finished with 23 saves as Notre Dame kept Michigan State’s KLH line of center Patrick Khodorenko, Mitchell Lewandowski and Taro Hirose, the nation’s leading scorer, scoreless. The KLH line had accounted for 49 goals and 121 points coming into the game.
Senior defenseman Nardella warmed up but couldn’t go because an unspecified injury. Captain Andrew Peeke, Nardella’s normal partner on the blue line and at the back of the power play, was paired with Stastney, who had two assists coming into the game but did score an unofficial goal in Notre Dame’s 2-2 overtime shootout win against Wisconsin at Chicago Stadium on Jan. 20.
Peeke started the game-winning goal sequence by O’Leary. The latter had two goals in last Friday’s come-from-behind 5-4 overtime win against Penn State. Peeke passed the puck across to Stastney. His shot went through a maze of players and hit O’Leary — and the puck somehow trickled into the net past Lethemon.
Notre Dame senior left wing Dylan Malmquist softly hit the post 1:10 into the game, but the Spartans carried the play to Notre Dame for the most part. They outshot the Irish 8-7, and at one point had an 8-2 edge with four shots that Morris turned away just before the 11:36 mark of the opening period.
The period ended with the Irish on a power play that carried 38 seconds into the second period. Lethemon made two saves — and lost his stick (he ended up getting a forward stick from Tommy Apap) — but the Irish couldn’t convert before the first-period horn.
Notre Dame started the second period with a 6-1 edge in shots, though there was a review on a Michigan State shot by Adam Goodsir that beat Morris but not the crossbar at 5:54. The Irish seemed to have momentum until freshman Cam Burke knocked MSU defenseman Butrus Ghafari from behind into the boards and was given a five-minute major and game misconduct at 10:10.
NOTRE DAME 1, MICHIGAN STATE 0
Lefty Smith Rink at Compton Family Ice Arena, South Bend
Michigan State 0 0 0—0
Notre Dame 0 0 1—1
First Period—Scoring: None. Penalties: Michigan State 1-2, Notre Dame 0-0.
Second Period—Scoring: None. Penalties (total): Michigan State 0-0 (1-2), Notre Dame 1-5 (1-5).
Third Period—Scoring: 1. Notre Dame, Mike O’Leary 6 (Spencer Stastney, Andrew Peeke) 2:28 (ppg). Penalties (total): Michigan State 3-6 (4-8), Notre Dame 0-0 (1-5).
Power-play opportunities—Michigan State 0 of 1, Notre Dame 1 of 4.
Shots on goal—Michigan State 8-11-8—27; Notre Dame 7-7-10—24.
Goalie saves—Michigan State, John Lethemon 7-7-9—23; Notre Dame, Cale Morris 8-11-8—27.
A: 4,177. Time: 2:20. Records: Michigan State 12-18-5; Notre Dame 19-13-3.