Dec. 1, 2012
By Neil Koepke, MSUSpartans.com Staff Writer
EAST LANSING - For one period, it was all pretty positive for Michigan State.
The Spartans ended their six-period scoring drought midway through the first period on a spectacular goal by Chris Forfar and held a 1-0 lead over Ohio State through 20 minutes of play on Saturday night at Munn Arena.
Unfortunately, MSU couldn't build on it and couple of defensive mistakes in the second period changed the complexion of the game.
The Buckeyes turned the mistakes into two goals and continued their smothering defensive style in the third period and cruised to a 3-1 victory over the Spartans and a sweep of the CCHA series in front of a crowd of 6,115 fans.
OSU senior goaltender Brady Hjelle's continued to play at elite level as he followed Friday's 1-0 shutout of MSU with a solid 22-save effort, including a clutch breakaway save on the Spartans' Brent Darnell with 8:16 left in the third period.
MSU trailed 2-1 and each team was one man short when Darnell broke in alone from the blue line and tried to slide the puck between Hjelle's legs. But the Buckeye goalie read the play and made the save, the Spartans' best scoring chance of the period.
"Their defense was playing up pretty tight and I found a seam and (freshman defenseman) Travis Walsh made a great pass. I cut in and was going to go five-hole and slip one in,'' Darnell said. "But he made a good play. (Hjelle) came in here hot and played great.''
Tanner Fritz and Tyler Lundey scored for Ohio State (7-4-3 overall, 6-2-2-1 CCHA) at 6:50 and 18:53, respectively, in the second period.
MSU held a 6-on-4 edge with 41.2 second left, with OSU taking a too-men-on-the-ice penalty at 19:19 and Spartan goalie Jake Hildebrand (21 saves) pulled for a sixth attacker.
The Spartans won a faceoff in the OSU zone and the puck was passed back to the left point, but defenseman Jake Chelios fell down and the Buckeyes cruised down the ice, with Lundey hitting the empty net at 19:39 to seal the victory and series sweep.
The Spartans (4-8-2, 3-6-1-0) have lost three straight and are 0-3-1 since their 7-2 victory over Michigan on Nov. 10. In those four games, they've scored three goals.
"It's tough to come out of two close games that were almost sellouts and not get any points. They were two winable games,'' Darnell said. "We had a good start but they matched our intensity in the second period. We needed to come right back at them.''
Forfar's goal, at 9:20 of the first period, was his first of the season and the most spectacular of his four-year career.
He skated through several Buckeyes coming into the offensive zone, avoided a possible big hit and his quick wrist shot surprised Hjelle and the puck dribbled through his pads and slid over the goal line.
"I couldn't tell you what happened. It's a blur, `' Forfar said. "I'll have to watch it on tape to get an idea what happened. Everyone said I missed a huge check from one of their guys that could have taken my head off. I don't remember it.
"I just went in and shot and I think it hit his stick and trickled through. It wasn't the top shelf of pretty goals.''
The Spartans failed to convert on five power plays, but MSU's penalty killing units continued to excel, skating off two OSU power plays. The Spartans have now killed 18 consecutive opponents' power plays since the Michigan game on Nov. 10.
Coach Tom Anastos felt his team played better on Saturday than it did on Friday.
"But it still wasn't good enough to get the results we were looking for. You've got score some goals. We have to figure that out,'' he said. "We played a pretty good game but then we make a couple of mistakes and they took advantage of it and we weren't able to respond to that.''
Ohio State seemed to take control of the game midway through the second period and put more pressure on the Spartans in MSU's defensive zone. The Spartans tried to hang on and get out of the period still deadlocked but instead gave up a late goal to fall behind for good.
"It was frustrating to give up a goal at that point. I thought our guys were working hard but if looked at the coverage, it was that we weren't working smart,'' Anastos said. "That can be a sign of fatigue or inexperience or the combination of both. But Ohio State made a real smart play.''
That was a turning point in the middle period and Hjelle's save on Darnell possibly saved the game for the Buckeyes.
"You love to get that emotion and energy back,'' Anastos said. "If Darnell's breakaway goes in, the building is alive, the team is alive and Ohio State is on their heels. Instead, he makes a big save and it gives their bench an emotional lift.''
The Spartans take to the road next weekend to face Notre Dame at 7:30 p.m. on Friday and 7 p.m. Saturday in South Bend.
MSU has one more home game before the Christmas break - against Ferris State at 7:30 p.m. on Dec. 18.