Notre Dame's Morris shuts down Michigan State again

John Fineran
Tribune Correspondent

SOUTH BEND — A couple of lunch-pail underclassmen scored goals and junior goalie Cale Morris made them stand up with his second straight shutout as No. 15 Notre Dame skated to a 2-0 victory to eliminate Michigan State from the Big Ten Conference playoffs Saturday night.

Morris, who turned aside 27 saves in Friday’s 1-0 Irish victory in the opener of the best-of-three, first-round series, followed with 28 saves for coach Jeff Jackson’s Irish, 20-13-3. Notre Dame got goals from sophomore left wing Pierce Crawford, a member of the fourth line, at 2:01 of the first period and freshman left wing Graham Slaggert, son of Irish associate head coach Andy Slaggert, at 10:38 of the second while the Irish were shorthanded.

It was Morris’ fourth shutout of the season, matching his total of last season.

John Lethemon made 21 stops for Michigan State, which ended its second season under Danton Cole, who played junior hockey for Jackson, at 12-19-5.

Next up for Notre Dame is a one-game semifinal against 18-15-4 Minnesota, which eliminated Michigan 4-1 Saturday night with its fifth straight victory. That game will be played at the Lefty Smith Rink in the Compton Family Ice Arena.

Slaggert and his fellow freshman linemates, center Jake Pivonka and right wing Alex Steeves, bottled up Michigan State’s touted KLH Line of center Patrick Khodorenko, right wing Mitchell Lewandowski and left wing Taro Hirose, the nation’s leading scorer with 50 points. The trio came into the series with 49 goals and 121 points, and Notre Dame held the threesome to four goals and 10 assists this season while going 5-0-1 against Michigan State this season.

Notre Dame, which waited until its 16th shot on goal Friday to score when freshman Spencer Stastney’s shot deflected off Mike O’Leary’s thigh past Lethemon in Friday’s victory, scored on its first shot of the night Saturday.

Senior fourth-line center Jack Jenkins outfought two Spartan defenders in the corner and slipped the puck to an unguarded Crawford, who beat Lethemon with a backhander.

The Spartans outshot the Irish 10-6 with Morris making three saves during an Irish penalty kill midway through the period. At the end of the period, MSU defenseman Jerad Rosburg went off for hooking at 18:50 and was joined by fellow defensemen Butrus Ghafari for elbowing at the 20:00. But Notre Dame did little on the 5-on-3 and two power plays that followed.

So the Irish got offensive with their penalty-killing unit. With Andrew Peeke off for elbowing at 9:14, Slaggert stole the puck along the boards and fed it to Cal Burke, who skated down the middle with one Spartan defender back. Slaggert quickly made it a 2-on-1 break, Burke slid him the puck and Slaggert beat Lethemon at 10:38 for his third goal of the season and Notre Dame’s fifth this season while shorthanded.

Michigan State 0 0 0—0

Notre Dame 1 1 0—2

First Period—Scoring: 1. Notre Dame, Pierce Crawford 2 (Jack Jenkins) 2:01 (even). Penalties: Michigan State 2-4, Notre Dame 1-2.

Second Period—Scoring: 2. Notre Dame, Graham Slaggert 3 (Cal Burke) 10:38 (sh). Penalties (total): Michigan State 1-2 (3-6); Notre Dame 1-2 (2-4).

Third Period—Scoring: None. Penalties (total): Michigan State 1-2 (4-8); Notre Dame 0-0 (2-4).

Power-play opportunities—Michigan State 0 of 2; Notre Dame 0 of 4.

Shots on goal—Michigan State 10-10-8—28; Notre Dame 6-9-8—23.

Goalie saves—Michigan State, John Lethemon 5-8-8—21; Notre Dame, Cale Morris 10-10-8—28.

Records: Michigan State 12-19-5, Notre Dame 20-13-3.

Notre Dame forward Pierce Crawford (17) celebrates a goal during against Michigan State Saturday at Compton Family Ice Arena in South Bend, Indiana.