Feb. 4, 2012
By Neil Koepke, MSUSpartans.com staff writer
The start was very poor. The finish was great.
Midway through the second period on Friday, Michigan State trailed Ohio State 3-1 and seemed to be on the verge of losing its third straight game.
The Spartans were working hard, playing better and staying within striking distance of the Buckeyes. But quality scoring chances were infrequent - until the third and fourth lines and defense turned the game around for MSU.
Three goals in less than nine minutes by three defensemen vaulted the Spartans (14-11-4 overall, 9-9-3-1 CCHA) into a 4-3 lead and a strong, efficient third period carried MSU to a much-needed 6-3 victory over the Buckeyes (24-9-5, 7-5-1-1) in the first game of a CCHA series in front of 4,450 fans at Value City Arena.
"It wasn't quite the start we worked on all week. So we had to regroup after the first period, giving up three goals, and try to figure out a way to climb back into the game,'' MSU coach Tom Anastos said.
"Our overall effort and defensive effort were much better in the second period. We put two good periods together and that was enough to win.''
Once the Spartans started winning the battles in the offensive zone, frequently forcing turnovers behind the net and along the boards, they got rewarded.
Senior defenseman A.J. Sturges scored his second career goal with a shot from the left point at 10:26 to cut OSU's lead to 3-2, and defenseman Torey Krug forced a turnover down low and scored an unassisted goal at 15:16 to tie it.
Matt Crandall, another senior on the blue line, gave the Spartans the lead for good when his shot from the left point rocketed past OSU goalie Brad Hjelle after a great forecheck behind the net with 57 seconds left in the period.
Krug said the turning point was the energetic and gritty play by the third and fourth lines - Anthony Hayes at center with Chris Forfar and Trevor Nill on the wings and Brent Darnell centering Dean Chelios and Tanner Sorenson.
"We just stuck to the process. Coach talked about making the little plays - like just chipping the puck in deep. Those lines came to play, stuck to the process and made good plays. They chipped the puck in, make good outlet passes and were able to capitalize on a couple of chances.''
Hayes, arguably playing his best game as a Spartan, had three assists. Forfar scored MSU's fifth goal with 5:45 left and was on the ice for another goal. Nill didn't have any points but was on the ice for Crandell's game-winner and Forfar's goal.
Freshman Matt Berry's seventh goal of the season came into an empty net with 1:56 left.
Chelios scored the Spartans' first goal, cutting OSU's lead to 2-1 at 14:26 of the first period. Unfortunately for MSU, the Buckeyes got it back at 17:12 to regain their two-goal edge.
"The goals just came too easy in the first period,'' Anastos said.
Chelios said the Spartans got a quick wake-up call in the first period as OSU scored 58 seconds into the and again at 4:19.
"We came into the locker room and the coaches let us know what was going on. We all knew,'' he said. "We picked it up and it was nice to see a comeback like that.''
Asked if there was any `'yelling'' by the coaches, Chelios smiled, "Yeah, a little bit. But I don't want to go into the details.''
Said Anastos, "It's a big dressing room . . . so you have to talk loud.''
Whatever was said and how it was presented got the players' attention. MSU looked like a different team in the second period.
"Hayes' line and Darnell's line each a good night. We need that to be a successful team,'' Anastos said. "Hayes made some great plays. That's one of the best games I've seen him play. His game is coming and coming.
"I was proud of our guys because they responded. We challenged them a bit after the first period. They did a little soul searching to figure out what it takes for us to be a good team.''
Asked by media if the Spartans made any adjustments to start the second period, Anastos said: "Yes we did. It was an attitude adjustment.''
MSU got another stellar effort with its penalty-killing units. They skated off three OSU power plays in the first period, including one in the last two minutes with the Buckeyes up 3-1 and eager to put the away. The Spartans killed two penalties in the second period and one in the third.
Goaltender Will Yanakeff was shaky in the first period but settled down and played well in the final 40 minutes. He made 41 saves, including 16 in the first and third periods.
"He fought the puck early,'' Anastos said. "Their first goal was a long shot and I don't know if it was tipped or if he was screened. Pucks were kind of bouncing off of him and to the wrong stops. He was struggling but we decided to hang with him and he rewarded us with strong play in the second and third periods.''
OSU used two goaltenders. Junior backup Brady Hjelle got the start, is fifth of the seson, and made 15 saves and gave up four goals in two periods of work. Cal Heeter, the No. 1 goalie who has struggled in recent weeks, played the third period and made 13 saves.
MSU's last sweep came against Bowling Green (5-1, 4-1) on Dec. 2-3 at Munn Arena.
"It does feel great. You have to take advantage of every opportunity you get,'' said Sturges, a fifth-year senior who played in just one game last season and none in 2009-10 and 2008-09 (medical redshirt). "To be a part of a defensive corps this solid and one that plays this hard, I'm just happy for the opportunity.''
Sturges, whose first career goal game against Mercyhurst early in his freshman year, has taken junior defenseman Matt Grassi's spot alongside Jake Chelios since Grassi suffered concussion -like symptoms the first week of January against Miami.
Miami, which lost at Michigan, 4-1, dropped from second to a three-way tie for third place with 36 points. OSU remained tied with Miami with 36 points apiece. Notre Dame edged Bowling Green 2-1 to climb over idle Lake Superior State and into a tie for third with Miami and WMU.
The Spartans, now with 32 points, stayed in eighth place, three points behind Michigan and LSSU with seven games remaining and four behind Miami, OSU and Notre Dame. Ninth-place NMU is two points behind MSU.
LSSU is idle in CCHA play this weekend, but the Lakers edged the US Under-18 team on Friday, 4-3. Miami takes next weekend off, while OSU doesn't play on the second-last weekend of the regular season. Alaska is also idle the final weekend - Feb. 24-25.