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Neil’s Notebook: Spartans Can’t Solve Buckeyes in Series Finale

Jan. 7, 2018

By Neil Koepke staff writer

EAST LANSING – It came down to the third period of a deadlocked and evenly played hockey game after 40 minutes.

Ohio State made some good plays and executed well.

Michigan State made some plays, too, but also made some costly mistakes and wasn’t as good with its execution.

The result was a frustrating loss for the Spartans and a good win for the No. 8-ranked Buckeyes, who have won six straight games.

Ohio State scored three consecutive goals in the final period, then gave up one, and held on for a 5-3 victory and Big Ten series sweep over Michigan State on Saturday night at Munn Arena.

After losing the series opener, 4-1, on Friday, the Spartans responded with a much better effort Saturday. They played faster, created quality scoring chances and made the Buckeyes work hard for their victory.

It was a winnable game but inexperience, costly defensive mistakes and the inability to finish chances kept MSU from skating off with a victory.

“Going into the second intermission, the energy in the locker room was good, we were playing well, and we then we started the third period with a power play and got some decent chances,’’ MSU senior defenseman Carson Gatt said. “Then things sorta got away. That’s tough knowing that was a winnable game.’’ Ohio State broke the 2-2 tie at 4:10 of the third period with the teams playing 4-on-4. Buckeye defenseman Matt Joyaux, at the left point, found John Wiitala in the slot near the right circle and put the puck right on his stick for a one-timer that eluded MSU goalie Ed Minney for a 3-2 lead.

A lost faceoff opened the door for OSU’s fourth goal at 11:00. Dakota Joshua won the draw in the left circle, pushed the puck ahead, found some space and lifted the puck into the top left corner for an unassisted goal.



Less than two minutes later, the Buckeyes completed the three-goal surge as Freddy Gerard scored on a slap shot from the left circle for a 5-2 cushion.

MSU sophomore center Sam Saliba got it back 36 second later with his second goal of the night and sixth of the season. He took a pass in the left circle from freshman Brody Stevens and beat OSU goalie Sean Romeo to the right corner. For Stevens, it was his first collegiate point.

Now with a two-goal lead, the Buckeyes were solid defensively in the final six minutes and kept the Spartans from threatening.

“With the battle level and compete level we need to have to be in games like this, we did a heckuva a lot better job tonight,’’ MSU coach Danton Cole said. “You want to see them get something out of it at the end of the day.

“It was good the way we battled, it’s something we can build on and we just have to keep moving forward and finding the good things. And there were some good things (that we did) over the last four (games) and some bad things we have to knock out.’’

On Friday, MSU’s only goal wasn’t scored until 10 minutes into the second period. On Saturday, the Spartans went up 1-0 on Mitchell Lewandowski’s 11th goal of the season. His shot from the right edge of the crease hit Romeo but bounced off his shoulder, landed behind him and slid into the crease.

Ohio State tied it and took a 2-1 lead with two goals within 17 seconds later in the opening period. Matthew Weiss scored on a backhander from close in at 13:59 and Joyaux’s shot from the left point toward the right circle went off of Joshua and found the back of the net at 14:16.

Saliba scored the only goal of the second period, tying the game with his first goal of the night on a power play at 4:29. Logan Lambdin took a pass from defenseman Jerad Rosburg in the right circle and fired the puck toward the net. Saliba got a stick on it to deflect it past Romeo.

“There’s positive things you can pull out of it. We had three goals and lots of other chances that I thought were pretty good, that were around the net, and in some ways, we could have been up 4-2 instead of down 4-2,’’ Cole said. “We played a much better game tonight but Ohio State is a very good team.

“I was proud of the way we worked. (The guys) didn’t shortchange us tonight.’’

Spartans goalie Ed Minney made 26 saves while OSU’s Romeo stopped 20 shots. MSU was 1-for-5 on the power play with eight shots on goal, against the Buckeyes’ top-rated penalty killing units. The visitors went 1-for-4, with nine shots on goal.

“We came out faster, hitting bodies and getting pucks deep, and we weren’t turning pucks over at the blue line,’’ Lewandowski said. “Guys were more confident with the puck and threw it on net more, too.

“It was nice to see the puck go in (for me). We need to start games like that. We’ve been pretty good in third periods and when it was 2-2, we gave ourselves a chance. We’re not going to point the finger (at breakdowns). We’re a team and we just have to take it five minutes at a time and build on every shift and get better.’’

Saliba would have felt better about his two-goal game – ending a 14-game scoring drought – if it would have been part of a win.

“It’s nice to get off the schneid a little but it definitely doesn’t fee as good when you don’t come away with the win,’’ he said. “The guys battled hard tonight but credit to Ohio State. They’re a good team. We just had a couple of lapses in the third period and fell behind, and then it was too late.

“We were moving tonight, supporting the puck and creating chances down low. With had a good down-low offense. We had a good second period but it takes three to win games. You take away positives but it’s the end results that matters.’’

Since returning after Christmas, the Spartans have allowed 20 goals in four losses – 5-2 against Michigan Tech, 6-4 vs. Michigan and 4-1 and 5-3 to OSU.

“That’s not going to win many games doing that,’’ Gatt said. “We’re not built to score (a lot of goals) and play track-meet games. We’ve got to be a little smarter and pick up loose guys and defend harder. It come down to that – will and grit and that’s been lacking the past couple of games.

“Coach says we’re not going to be a team that’s going to out-skill and out-talent other teams. We need to rely on will and grit and physicality. And just defend and be tough to play against.’’

Said Cole, “The second period was one of our better periods. I wish we had the option of not resurfacing the ice and gone right to the third period. We would have taken it.’’

SPARTAN POTPOURRI: Sam Saliba and Logan Lambdin had solid games offensively. Saliba had five shots on goal and two goals, while Lambdin hand two shots on goal, including a point-blank shot on a power play in the second period, after taking the shot that Saliba deflected into the net on a power play that tied the game 2-2.

Saliba’s two-goal game was his third in his season-and-a-half as a Spartan and second vs. Ohio State. He scored two goals last season against Michigan in a 4-4 tie on Feb. 12 at Munn Arena and against Ohio State in a 5-3 loss on March 4 in Columbus. Saliba was MSU’s second-leading goal scorer last year with 10, and his 18 points were tied for third in team scoring with fellow freshman Patrick Khodorenko. . . .

Brennan Sanford, who scored MSU’s only goal on Friday, was injured late in the game and sat out on Saturday. Coach Danton Cole said the injury wasn’t expected to keep Sanford out for a long period of time. . . .

Meanwhile, freshman center Tommy Apap, who’s been sidelined with a lower-body injury since the Notre Dame game on Dec. 2, is expected to return to practice on Monday and could be back in the lineup soon. . . .

Saturday’s series finale against Ohio State was Michigan State’s fourth game in the last six days. The Spartans played two games in the Great Lakes Invitational on Monday and Tuesday, then took Wednesday and practiced Thursday before two weekend games with the Buckeyes. The Spartans played four games in five days during the 1976 WCHA playoffs. They swept Wisconsin, 6-4, 6-4, in a two-game, total goals series on March 10-11, then faced Minnesota in a total-goals series, March 13-14, tying 2-2 and losing 7-6 in three overtimes, arguably the most heartbreaking loss in MSU history. It denied the Spartans a trip to the 1976 NCAA Frozen Four in Denver. The Gophers went on to win the national championship, defeating Boston University 4-2 in the semifinals and Michigan Tech 6-4 in the title game.

THE ROAD AHEAD: Michigan State is at the halfway point of the Big Ten season with 12 games in the books and 12 more to go, starting next weekend at Wisconsin. The teams play at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday at the Kohl Center in Madison. In the 34-game regular season, more than halfway through with 22 games already played.

The Spartans (8-13-1, 2-9-1-1 Big Ten) have only four home games remaining, six on the road and two at neutral sites. They’re home against Minnesota on Thursday, Jan. 18, Michigan on Friday, Feb. 9 and Penn State on Friday and Saturday, Feb. 16-17. There’s two Friday home games left, one Saturday and one on Thursday.

On the road, MSU plays at Wisconsin this weekend, at Ohio State, Feb. 2-3, and at Notre Dame to close the regular season, Feb. 23-24.

The neutral site games are at New York’s Madison Square Garden on Saturday, Jan. 20, and against Minnesota and at Little Caesars Arena on Feb. 10 vs. Michigan.

IN THE BIG TEN: Wisconsin avoided getting swept by Penn State by scoring a late goal to tie it, 3-3, and then held the Nittany Lions scoreless in overtime to end up with a deadlock. But No. 14 Penn State won the shootout 1-0 to earn two points in the BigTen standings while the No. 15 Badgers came away with one point.

Defenseman Peter Tischke tied the game at 18:08 for Wisconsin, which trailed 3-1 after two periods. PSU outshot the Badgers 6-3 in overtime.

The tie ended Wisconsin’s three-game losing streak and halted Penn State’s four-game winning streak but it extended the Nittany Lions’ unbeaten streak to 10 games (7-0-2).

The heralded showdown in Minnesota involving No. 1 St. Cloud State and No. 10 University of Minnesota didn’t turn out so well for the Gophers. The Huskies broke a 1-1 tie in the second period with two goals in the first six minutes and added another in the third, en route to a 5-2 non-conference victory.

The teams meet again Sunday night.

No. 2 Notre Dame, a 2-1 winner in its series opener against at Michigan on Friday, goes for a sweep this afternoon against the Wolverines in South Bend. The Irish have won all 11 Big Ten games and their national-leading overall winning streak is at 14 games.

Next weekend, in addition to the MSU-Wisconsin series, Michigan is at Minnesota on Friday and Saturday and Penn State plays host to Ohio State, also on Friday and Saturday. Notre Dame has the weekend off.

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