Feb. 26, 2012
By Neil Koepke, MSUSpartans.com staff writer
The work ethic was there. So was the focus. So was the execution.
Operation Rebound was a big success for Michigan State on Saturday night in the final game of the CCHA's regular season.
The Spartans bounced back from Friday's less-than-stellar effort in a disappointing 2-0 loss and boosted their level of play Saturday and it paid off in a strong 4-2 come-from-behind victory over Notre Dame in front of a sellout crowd of 5,022 at the Compton Family Center in South Bend.
"I liked the demeanor of our team from the time we arrived at the rink. We did some things today to get ready, after being disappointed in our effort on Friday night,'' MSU coach Tom Anastos said.
"We scored some timely goals. When you work hard, you never know what might happen. That's what we did tonight.''
And for the first time since Jan. 11, 2008, the Spartans defeated Notre Dame, ending a 0-8-3 winless streak. And it was the first win in South Bend since Feb. 3, 2006.
Saturday's victory - MSU's 19th of the season - would have more rewarding if the Spartans had received some help from Ferris State or Ohio State.
But the Bulldogs lost at home against Western Michigan, 3-0, and the Buckeyes fell at home against Miami, 5-1, ending MSU's quest of finishing ahead of WMU or Miami and in third or fourth and earning home ice for the second round of the playoffs. (FSU's loss, its first since Dec. 30, halted a 15-game (11-0-4) unbeaten streak),
Instead, the Spartans (19-13-4 overall, 14-11-3-2), finish in fifth place, one point behind fourth-place Miami and three in back of second-place Michigan and WMU. So, MSU gets a bye in next weekend's first round of the CCHA playoffs and plays at No. 4-seed Miami in a best-of-three second-round series, March 9-11.
"You set your goals and we were in a position to accomplish it. It stings a bit but it's over and there's nothing we can do about it,'' said junior defenseman Torey Krug, whose goal with 41.5 second left in the second period broke a 2-2 tie and turned out to be the game-winner.
The point on the goal gave Krug a share of the CCHA scoring title with Notre Dame standout center T.J. Tynan, who also scored a goal in the second period, with 29 points apiece in 28 league contests. Krug (11-18-29) is the first MSU defenseman to win or share a scoring title in the CCHA or the WCHA.
Anastos savored his team's overall performance and the victory and didn't dwell on not finishing fourth, although he and his players would have loved to play at least two more games in front of the energetic students and supportive home crowd.
"You get what you got coming to you. We had plenty of chances to secure home ice. We have to live with it,'' Anastos said. "It's now the playoffs. It's an entirely different season.''
The Spartans got a lift from a balanced scoring attack and, other than Krug, not necessarily from their top scorers.
Kevin Walrod, who scored late in the first period, went into the game tied for fifth in team scoring. Chris Forfar, a strong defensive forward who scored shorthanded late in the second period, was 12th and Dean Chelios, whose scored halfway through the third period, is No. 8 in team scoring.
Senior center Brett Perlini, who had never beaten Notre Dame, had two assists, as did junior center Anthony Hayes, who set up Forfar's goal with a blocked shot, a speedy rush down the left wing and a perfect centering pass.
"We took advantage of some breaks and those goal posts were music to my ears while we were killing a penalty on the first shift of the third period,'' Anastos said. "We were opportunistic in our scoring and we got a good result.''
The Spartans, outshot 29-19, were alert and tough on defense, and didn't panic when the Irish controlled play and applied pressure in the MSU done.
Spartan goaltender Will Yanakeff, who was solid in Friday's loss, continued his sharp play, was sound with his positioning and got help from the post and crossbar and some errant shooting by the Irish.
"Even though they carried the game for a while, we talked about our defensive zone and how sometimes you just have to weather storms,'' Anastos said. "We were not going to outmuscle them. They're a big, strong team.
"But if we're in position, we can do it. All I wanted was our guys to compete hard and don't give up space and make them earn everything they get. I thought we did that the whole game.''
MSU didn't get off to a good start. Notre Dame's Anders Lee scored his first goal since New Year's Eve when scored on a power-play just 4:37 into the game.
Walrod, who was robbed with a spectacular paddle-save by Irish goalie Steven Summerhays on Friday, had better luck with Notre Dame netminder Mike Johnson. Walrod scored with a quick wrist shot from the inside edge of the right circle at 17:02 of the opening period to tie at 1-1 with his ninth goal
After Tynan gave the Irish a 2-1 lead an unassisted effort to score shorthanded at 10:57 of the second period, Forfar answered with a short-handed goal at 17:01 to make it 2-2. It was his sixth goal.
In the final minute of the period, Hayes won a faceoff in the left circle, sliding the puck to the left boards, where Krug moved in and let go with a slap shot from outside the circle and the puck found an opening between the left post and Johnson's right pad at 19:18.
"Hayes did a great job of winning the faceoff,'' Krug said. "He told me he was going to draw it back and I would walk to the middle. He won it, and it ended up in an area where my only option was to shoot. I did and just hoped it went in and it did.''
With two goals within 2 minutes and 17 seconds, the Spartans went from behind down 2-1 to up 3-2 in a period in which they were outshot, 11-3 and only attempted seven shot at the net.
"To come out of the second period ahead 3-2 shows we were living right,'' Anastos said.
MSU was stronger in the final period, first killing off an early Irish power play, thanks in part to a puck clanking off the post and a few shots that were off target. Dean Chelios gave the Spartans some breathing room, boosting the lead to 4-2 with a weird goal from the top of the right circle at 9:13.
Chelios, set up by pass from Perlini, let go with a wrist shot and his stick snapped in two, as the puck was on its way toward the net. It appeared to go off an Irish defenseman and deflected past Johnson for his eighth goal.
Notre Dame had one power play the rest of the way and threatened, but the Spartans, with the best penalty-killing units in the CCHA, survived and MSU finally defeated the Irish.
Anastos said his team was much more aggressive in the offensive zone.
"Tonight, we went to the net and that makes a big difference,'' he said. "On Friday, we had eight grade A chances, and that's not going to get it done. And some of those were soft shots but counted (as grade A) because they were close in. We did a way better job tonight.''
Once again, playing from behind didn't impact the Spartans, who have trailed in four of their last six victories.
"We stuck with what the coaches wanted us to do and it really helped us,'' Krug said. "The guys made little plays, we stuck together and we were able to get the victory.
"It shows how mature our locker room is. The first night we might not have it but we have a group of guys who can see how we played and come back ready to do what we had to do.''
Sixth-place Northern Michigan (42), which swept Lake Superior State to finish one point ahead of the Lakers, plays host to No. 11 seed Bowling Green. LSSU (41) is home against No. 10 Alaska, and eighth-place Notre Dame (39) gets home ice against No. 9 Ohio State (39). The Irish won the tiebreaker with the Buckeyes because of more conference wins (12-11).
On March 9-11, in addition to the MSU-Miami series, No. 1 Ferris State will host the lowest seed from the first-round winners. The second-lowest surviving seed plays at Michigan, and the highest-seeded first-round winner plays at Western Michigan.
Krug, a junior from Livonia, is 5-foot-9 and 180 pounds and an NHL free agent. Tynan, a sophomore from Orland Park, Ill., is 5-foot-8 and 167 pounds and was drafted last summer by Columbus.
Krug had 11 goals and 18 assists while Tynan finished with nine goals and 20- assists.
In overall games, Krug leads MSU in scoring with 11 goals and 21 assists for 32 points in 35 games, which is fifth in the CCHA. Tynan is the top scorer overall with 13 goals and 27 assists for 40 points.
Both Krug and Tynan spent a big chuck of the last five minutes of the game in the penalty box after a skirmish with each other at 14:52. Krug and defenseman Jake Chelios were sent for roughing after the whistle whileTynan was assessed roughing after the whistle and high sticking penalties.
Since they were coincidental minors, the teams played 5-on-5 and since there were no whistles after two minutes, Krug and Chelios had to stay in the penalty box for another two minutes, before they finally got out, along with Tynan, with about a minute left in the game.
As usual, Krug credited his teammates for their support in helping him make history as the first MSU defenseman to win a league scoring championship.
"It's a testament to my teammates. They put me in a successful position to capitalize and get points here and there,'' said Krug, a lock to make the CCHA All-Conference first team, and a strong contender as the league's player of the year.
"If we would have won 4-3 and Tynan had a hat trick, I wouldn't have cared. It was important for our team to win at this point in the season.''
Anastos said he saved the game puck to give to Krug if he ended up winning or sharing the title, based on the results of all the other games. He presented the puck to Krug during a brief ceremony on the team bus on the way back home on Saturday.
"That's an awfully hard thing to do and an incredible feat,'' Anastos said. "I know he'll credit his teammates because that's the kind of guy he is. His teammates are very proud he's been able to accomplish that.
"I was hoping he'd get an empty-netter there at the end. I'm proud of him because he's a terrific player and represents our program and school so well. We all take a lot of pride in his accomplishment.''
Said goalie Will Yanakeff: "The only way of putting it is `Awesome.' He's been a great player all year. He comes up big when we need him to come up big.''