Notre Dame, Ind. -
Senior goaltender Mike Johnson stopped 26-of-27 shots he faced and fellow senior Nick Larson scored a goal and an assist to help lead Notre Dame to a 4-1 win over Bowling Green on Saturday night in front of a sellout crowd at the Compton Family Ice Arena.
The win, coupled with a Western Michigan loss at Michigan State, puts the Irish in second place in the final regular-season standings, three points behind CCHA regular-season champ, Miami.
Larson was joined on the score sheet by freshman Mario Lucia with a goal and an assist, and juniors David Gerths and Anders Lee who chipped in one goal each in the win. Andrew Wallace scored the lone Bowling Green goal on the night.
Notre Dame finished the regular season by going 5-1-3 in its last nine games and is now 21-12-3 overall and 17-8-3-2 in the CCHA, good for 56 points. The loss dropped the Falcons to 13-18-5 for the year and 10-15-3-1 in the conference. They lost out on their bid for home ice in the first round of the CCHA playoffs and finished ninth and will travel to Lake Superior State.
"I thought we played really well tonight," said Irish head coach Jeff Jackson.
"I was really happy with the way we played in the third period. We played a smart third period. We have had the tendency to do something in the third that changes the momentum."
Jackson followed up the pre-game Senior Night ceremonies by starting all four seniors with defenseman Sam Calabrese and right wing Kevin Nugent joining Johnson and Larson on the ice for the opening face off.
"Mike (Johnson) played well for us. Any good chances they had, he played strong," said Jackson.
"I was happy for the seniors tonight. I was happy for Nick Larson; Nuge (Kevin Nugent) played well and Sammy Calabrese played really well. I'm glad for the seniors. They had a big impact on the game."
Notre Dame opened the scoring at 5:31 of the first as Lucia, the freshman, did the honors jamming a loose puck between Bowling Green goaltender Andrew Hammond's pads for his 12th of the season. Great fore-checking by Mike Voran set the play in motion as he forced a turnover behind the goal line to defenseman Robbie Russo who was able to get the puck in front to Lucia.
The Falcons answered back at 13:19 as Wallace flipped a rebound of Adam Berkle's shot over a sprawling Johnson under the crossbar to even things at 1-1. The goal was Wallace's third of the season.
Johnson made 10 of his 26 saves in the first period as BG had the edge in shots, 11-7.
With Notre Dame on the power play, Gerths put the Irish ahead to stay at 4:26 of the second period on a crazy play that
saw Hammond get trapped out of the net. Larson drove on goal with the puck and the Falcon netminder dove out to poke check it away. The puck went behind the goal to Lucia who fed it across the crease to the junior center at the bottom of the left circle where he deposited it into the open cage for his career-best ninth of the season to make it 2-1.
"David (Gerths) has elevated his game the past couple of months," said Jackson.
"That makes us a better team. It gives us more scoring depth from our forward lines. That line played well again tonight. They played well last weekend too with Sammy Herr in there. It's positive for us. We have some depth depending on the opponent."
The Irish would add a pair of insurance goals in the third period as Lee tucked the rebound of a Jeff Costello shot past Hammond at 3:05 for his team-best 18th goal of the season to make it 3-1.
Larson then closed out the scoring with a power play goal at 17:37 as he scored unassisted to make it 4-1. The senior stripped a BG defenseman in the high slot and moved in on goal. His first shot rank off the left post but went off Larson's body, then his stick and into the goal. Initially, the goal was waved off, but after a review, the goal was awarded to Larson.
"We had a good forecheck and the puck popped out to me and I had a breakaway. I took the shot off the post and I was lucky enough to get my own rebound," said Larson.
For the second night in a row, the Irish were 2-for-3 on the power play while the Falcons went 0-for-1. Bowling Green out shot Notre Dame for the second night in a row, this time by a 27-26 margin. Hammond finished with 22 saves in the game.
The Irish will now have a first round bye in the CCHA playoffs that will feature Michigan State at Alaska, Northern Michigan at Michigan and Bowling Green at Lake Superior next weekend.
Notre Dame will return to action at the Compton Family Ice Arena the weekend of March 15-17 against the second lowest remaining team in the standings.
"For what happened to us in January, for us to rebound the way we have in the last month is really good," said Jackson.
"At least we are going in the right direction heading into the playoffs. Hopefully we aren't done getting better. We have to play better for our second round opponent. We'll have a tough second round. We reached our first objective, finishing in the top four. Now our next objective is to get to Detroit and Joe Louis Arena."
GAME SUMMARY 1 2 3 - F
Bowling Green (13-18-5/10-15-3-1) 1 0 0 - 1
#12/#11 Notre Dame (21-12-3/17-8-3-2) 1 1 2 - 4