Feb. 11, 2012
By Neil Koepke, MSUSpartans.com staff writer
Special teams and a special player paved the way for a special come-from-behind victory by Michigan State on a snowy Friday night at sold-out Munn Arena.
Defenseman Torey Krug, playing one of the best games of his three-year college career, scored two goals and set up the game winner as the No. 17 Spartans rallied for two unanswered goals in the third period - both on the power play - and held on for a 3-2 CCHA victory over No. 4/6-ranked Michigan.
"I love playing these guys. Everyone in our locker room loves playing these guys and they love playing us,'' Krug said. "When you're playing these games, it's not just for the people in the locker room. You're playing for Spartans everywhere.''
The win lifted MSU (16-11-4 overall, 11-9-3-2 CCHA) above Notre Dame, Miami and Ohio State and into a third-place tie with the Wolverines (17-10-4, 11-8-4-1) and Lake Superior State, which defeated Alaska, 4-2, on Friday in Fairbanks.
The Spartans and Michigan will wrap up the weekend series at 7:30 Saturday at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit. Overall, MSU is 1-2-1 against Michigan, which includes a 3-2 overtime loss in the Great Lakes Invitational title game, and 1-1-1 in CCHA play.
On Friday in front of the largest crowd of the season - 7,103 - and arguably the most energetic, the Spartans trailed 2-0 midway through the second period before fighting their way back, thanks to an opportunistic power play and strong penalty killing.
MSU went 2-for-6 on the power play and skated off three U-M power plays, including one starting with four minutes left in the game. The Spartans' penalty killing is No. 1 in the nation with a success rate of 89.3 percent.
"It hasn't been very often that our power play has been a big reason for a win but tonight it was,'' MSU coach Tom Anastos said. "We had really good puck movement.''
And the Spartans had Krug, whose low slap shot shot from the left point at 13:16 of the second period - while playing 5-on-5, beat U-M goalie Shawn Hunwick to the right corner, cut the Wolverines' lead to 2-1 and turned the game around.
Krug tied it with a nifty power-play goal at 1:26 of the third period, when he took a perfect cross-ice pass from Greg Wolfe, moved in from the blue line, faked a shot, waited a couple of seconds and then fired the puck into lower right corner.
"Coach told me to drop a fake and their guys would go down for a block and I should step around and get the puck through and it worked,'' said Krug, who has four goals and eight points in his last three games and is now tied for second in scoring in CCHA games with 10 goals and 14 assists for 24 points.
"When I came back to the bench, coach said `stick with what I'm telling you and we'll go places,''' Krug added with a laugh.
Less than three minutes after MSU tied it, Krug made another huge play.
He beat his good friend and former youth hockey teammate, U-M senior forward David Wohlberg, to a loose puck near the middle of the ice about 10 feet outside the left circle in the Wolverine zone.
Krug drove to the net, cut to his right to avoid a defender and went to his backhand to serve up a pass to a wide-open freshman Matt Berry down low to the left of the net. Berry one-timed the puck into the net at 4:07 for his 10th goal of the season and give the Spartan a 3-2 lead.
"He's an elite player in this league. You just hope to keep him off the scoresheet,'' Michigan coach Red Berenson said of Krug, a 5-foot-9, 180 pounder from Livonia.
Anastos said Krug was the Spartans' catalyst.
"Big-time players play big on the big stage and that's what (Krug) did tonight,'' Anastos said. "He was great offensively and he played with great emotion and discipline. Early on, he took some big hits but he stayed poised and cool. I was proud of his effort.
"I really enjoyed watching him.''
Anastos also liked watching his goaltender, sophomore Will Yanakeff, who was making his third straight start and coming off two victories at Ohio State.
Yanakeff had another strong game. He made 28 saves, stopped a couple of breakways and made a game-saving, close-in save on Luke Moffat with 2:04 to go in the game and 11 seconds left on U-M's last power play.
"I didn't see much of it. I'm lucky to have a big body and I was able to use it to my advantage,'' said the 6-foot-3, 200-pound Yanakeff. "The puck hit me and I was able to control the rebound.''
Yanakeff was sick most of the week with the flu and practiced for the first time on Thursday. He looked just fine on Friday.
"I think our team played really hard, with a lot of heart. We were composed. It was a great game by everyone,'' he said. "We stuck together and got a win. I knew Michigan was going to be hungry in the third period, but once again our penalty killing came up great. We blocked shots and go the puck out.''
MSU blocked 22 shots, including 11 in the third period, to nine overall for Michigan.
Hunwick, who had allowed only two goals in his last three games and only one in a sweep of Miami last week, was unbeatable for the first 33 minutes. He survived some stretches of pressure by the Spartans, including a Krug slap shot that clanked off the right post in the first period and a shot by left wing Mike Merrifield that deflected off a Wolverine defenseman in front and hit the right post. Hunwick made 27 saves.
A.J. Treais and Kevin Lynch scored for U-M at 4:28 and 11:10 of the second period.
"Everybody on the bench kept their heads up,'' Krug said of his team going down 2-0. "It's been kind of the same team all year. If we go down, we don't put our heads down. We're in great shape and it came down to sticking with it mentally and making little plays, doing what the coaches ask us to do and we came through pretty well.''
The Spartans savored the series-opening victory but their excitement was tempered by the fact that there's another game on Saturday.
"It's another step in right direction in getting the program back to where we want it to be,'' Krug said. "It feels unbelievable but we know Michigan is a great team and we have a job to do (Saturday) night. The job is half over and hopefully we can take another step.''
"It's a big win for our team. Michigan is a good team and I have great respect for what they've done and how good they are and I feel we beat a good team,'' Anastos said. "What I feel best about is seeing the guys and how they're responding, and how really important the three points are. And I want our seniors to have success. That's what comes to mind first.''
Anastos is 1-2-1 against the Wolverines and three of the games have been decided by one goal. U-M won the series opener in December, 4-3, in Ann Arbor, and the next night the teams to played to a 3-3 tie, with MSU winning the shootout at Munn Arena. In the GLI, Michigan rallied to tie MSU in the last minute on a power-play goal, and won it in overtime, 3-2.
Coach Tom Anastos said he was confident his penalty killers would respond.
"I knew were going to kill it. Our guys have the mojo,'' he said. "We said we'll do our best, force them to make a mistake or make a good play to score a goal, and if they did that, we'd regroup and keep going.''
The Spartans have killed the last 19 opponents' power plays going back to the third period of a 4-3 loss at Ferris State on Jan. 28.
"Obviously, I didn't like the ending. I didn't see the penalties but they were a huge part of the game,'' Berenson said. "That was disappointing. You guys (in the media) tell us how good our penalty killing is and then we give up goals like that.''
U-M had skated off 26 power plays by its opponents until Torey Krug converted early in the third period.
"Our team was not good. Give them credit - they finished the game and won, but we did not play the way we have to play to have a chance to win,'' Berenson said.
The loss was only the Wolverines' second in their last 14 games . U-M came into Friday's game with a three-game win streak and was 10-1-2 it its last 13 contests.
Ferris State is still unbeaten in 2012 at 8-0-3, while OSU is winless since the start of the new year at 0-7-4. The Buckeyes are off next weekend.
Northern Michigan climbed to within three points of eighth-place Ohio State with a 4-2 victory at Bowling Green. In a nonconference home game, Miami topped Alabama-Huntsville, 3-1.