For fans of playoff hockey, the Compton Family Ice Arena was the place to be on Friday night as Notre Dame and Bowling Green went toe-to-toe for the first 60 minutes with neither team breaking through on the scoreboard.
The Irish finally broke through getting the game winner at 1:22 of overtime when junior right wing Bryan Rust beat Falcons' goaltender Andrew Hammond with a backhander to give Notre Dame the 1-0 win to take a one game to none lead in the best-of-three quarterfinal round of the CCHA playoffs.
The two teams will meet at 7:08 p.m. on Saturday night in game two of the series. An Irish win will send them to the final CCHA championship series at Detroit's Joe Louis Arena on March 23-24.
The victory extends 12th-ranked Notre Dame's unbeaten streak to six games (4-0-2) since Feb. 17. The Irish are now 22-12-3 overall while Bowling Green falls to 15-20-5 on the season.
Notre Dame is now 4-1-0 versus the Falcons this season and since the 2005-06 campaign, the Irish own a 15-1-1 mark at home against Bowling Green.
"Both teams were playing hard, the goaltenders were playing well, that's typical playoff hockey," said Irish coach Jeff Jackson.
Notre Dame would outshoot the Falcons, 36-22, on the night with Rust's goal coming on the first shot for either team in the overtime period. Hammond finished the night with 35 saves while Irish goaltender Steven Summerhays had 22 stops in picking up his fourth shutout of the season and the sixth of his career.
"(Andrew) Hammond is a good goaltender. He's tough to beat," said Jackson.
"He makes it difficult to get scoring chances. He's a big kid and very athletic. The last time we played him he was coming off an injury. Tonight was how I expected him to look."
Bowling Green, fresh off a 2-1 series win over Lake Superior State in the first round of the playoffs, almost had the early lead as Brett Mohler rang a close-in chance off the cross bar just 37 seconds into the game with Summerhays clearing the puck from his crease. After almost three minutes of non-stop play, the goal was reviewed by the officials and ruled that it did not cross the goal line.
The Irish skated the rust off from their first-round bye as they outshot the Falcons, 7-6, in the first period. They followed that up with 15 shots in the second and 13 in the third but the 6-3, 190-pound Hammond was equal to the task time and time again.
"I thought we were a little rusty early in the game," said Jackson.
"We slowly started getting our game legs back in the second period. That's pretty typical when you have the bye week. I thought things started to change when David Gerths' line got going. They picked up the forecheck and got the cycle going and created some scoring chances."
In the overtime period, junior captain Anders Lee was able to force a turnover behind the Falcon goal line to the right of Hammond. Junior linemate Jeff Costello picked the puck up and fed it in front to Rust who was moving down the slot. The junior from Novi, Mich., played it out of his skates to his forehand before moving to his backhand and lifting the puck over Hammond for the victory. The goal was Rust's 13th of the season and his team-best fourth game-winning goal of the season.
"I just got on the ice in a line change and was able to get open in the slot," said Rust in explaining his goal.
"Jeff Costello was able to find me and I kicked the puck up to my backhand and was able to score. He (Hammond) was playing with a lot of confidence. He was unbelievable tonight. You have to give him all the credit in the world.
With a hard-fought victory in the books on Friday night, the Irish now turn their attention to Saturday and game two of the series.
"We have to focus on tomorrow night's game now," said Jackson.
"We can't get wrapped up in where we stand for the NCAA Tournament. We still control our own destiny. If we win we'll be in. Tomorrow night is the most important thing. This team we are playing has won its last three-playoff series after losing the first game. They did it last year and you can see why. Bowling Green is a tough team to play against."
IRISH HOCKEY NOTES:
** With his goal, Bryan Rust now has 30 points (13 goals and 17 assists) this season in 37 games. He had doubled his career point total this season as he came into the year with 11 goals and 19 assists for 30 points in 80 games.
** One year ago, in game one of the quarterfinal round at Michigan, the Irish also played an overtime game, dropping a 2-1 decision to the Wolverines in a game that went into double overtime (83:00). Steven Summerhays was the goaltender in that game. He now has a 3-4-0 mark in CCHA postseason action with a 1.51 goals-against average and a .945 save percentage.
** With the playoff win, Notre Dame improves to 18-8 all-time at home in CCHA playoff action. The Irish are 3-0 in postseason play at the Compton Family Ice Arena.
GAME SUMMARY 1 2 3 OT - F
Bowling Green (15-20-5) 0 0 0 0 - 0
#12/#12 Notre Dame (22-12-3) 0 0 0 1 - 1
First Period: No Scoring.
Penalties: BGSU: 2 for 4 minutes; ND: 1 for 2 minutes.
Second Period: No Scoring.
Penalties: BGSU: 0 for 0 minutes; ND: 0 for 0 minutes.
Third Period: No Scoring.
Penalties: BGSU: 3 for 6 minutes; ND: 3 for 6 minutes.