By: Josh Brown
SOUTH BEND, Ind. – A big debate in sports is whether a bye-week really helps a team come playoff time.
Not only do you face a team coming off a win with momentum on their side, but legs might be rusty having not played in-game action in two weeks.
Third seeded Notre Dame certainly felt the effects of their bye-week in the first 7 minutes in game one of the Hockey East quarterfinals, letting in two early goals en route to a 3-1 loss to sixth seeded Northeastern.
“What we expected is what we got,” said Northeastern coach Jim Madigan, “a hard fought game against a Notre Dame Coach Jackson team. They’re heavy on pucks, they’re disciplined, they push you and they brought the best out of us.
The win keeps Northeastern (19-13-5, 10-8-4) unbeaten in 19 of its last 20 games, the best stretch in program history, while also putting the Huskies just one win shy of the Hockey East semifinals at the TD Garden.
Although the shot totals were low, 22 for Northeastern, 21 for Notre Dame, the play of freshman goalie Ryan Ruck paced the Huskies all night. The Irish (19-9-7, 15-5-2) got 21 saves from sophomore Cal Petersen.
Just 2:29 into the game Northeastern got on the board courtesy of freshman Lincoln Griffin.
With Patrick Schule, Tanner Pond and Griffin all cycling the puck in the offensive zone, Schule threw a hard shot towards net that was blocked down by an Irish skater. Luckily for Northeastern Griffin was right there to collect the rebound on the goal line, and tuck the puck past Petersen who was trying to shuffle himself to the post to seal off the angle.
Less than four minutes later Northeastern really silenced the Notre Dame faithful upping their lead to two.
In the Huskies attacking zone, junior Zach Aston-Reese brought the puck to the top of the right face-off circle and put a shot on net that was deflected wide. Assistant captain John Stevens was the first one to the rebound, collecting the puck and skating behind the net, eventually wrapping a backhand shot just inside the left post.
“I thought the start was really good,” said Madigan. “I think it was key to get a good start. We wanted to create some momentum in the first five to seven minutes and we were able to do that.”
“Getting a start in this building against this team is important. And even if it doesn’t result in goals, just feeling good about your game and playing to your identity, which we were able to do tonight.”
As most suspected Notre Dame would not rollover though, cutting the deficit to one just over a minute later.
With the always dangerous defenseman combo of Jordan Gross (9 goals, 22 assists) and Bobby Nardella (4 goals, 20 assists) moving the puck back-and-forth, Gross fired a shot on net that beat a barrage of traffic in front of the net and eventually Ruck.
The Huskies caught another bad break at the 10:04 mark of the first when defenseman Dustin Darou was given a game misconduct and ejected for an interference penalty that forced Jake Evans to temporarily leave the game. Northeastern was able to kill off the Notre Dame five-minute power play unscathed though to hold on to their lead.
“We needed to score on that power play,” said Notre Dame coach Jeff Jackson. “That was a huge factor for us too, not taking advantage of a five-minute major and at least getting one. Part of it was Evans was the guy that got injured on that play and we had to break that unit up because we didn’t have him available.”
“I thought our five (defenseman) really stepped up real big,” said Madigan. “It’s one thing to lose a defenseman early in the first period, but the way this team plays, they pressure you, they come at you. It puts more pressure and burden on our five that were back there.”
The second and third period came in waves, with both teams controlling the tempo for periods of time, but Ruck and Petersen ultimately standing strong. Blocked shots proved to be huge, with the teams combining for 33 in the game (17 for Notre Dame, 16 for Northeastern).
With just 35 seconds left to go Tanner Pond scored an empty-netter to put the game away. Game two is Saturday at 7:05 with full coverage beginning on WRBB at 6:30.
“We fore-checked, we got in there to create some turnovers,” said Madigan. “Maybe we can get a few more shots to the net. Notre Dame did a great job blocking shots so we didn’t get so many shots to the net.”
“Conversely, I’d like us to block a few more shots. Their defensemen, particularly [Gross] and [Nardella] get pucks to the net. They’re really good, so you try to get shot angles a little better so that we can deny opportunities at our end.”
Dan McLoone contributed to this article.