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Neil’s Notebook: Last Regular-Season Game at the Joe Ends in a Deadlock

Feb. 11, 2017

By Neil Koepke staff writer

DETROIT – The best takeaway for Michigan State from Friday’s Duel in the D with Michigan was that the Spartans still haven’t lost to the Wolverines in Big Ten play this season.

They’re now 1-0-2 against their rivals from Ann Arbor after rallying late in the third period to salvage a 4-4 tie in front of a spirited crowd of 17,720 at Joe Louis Arena.

The bad takeaways for Michigan State, however, are that they squandered leads of 2-0 and 3-2 and ended up losing in the shootout (2-1) for the second straight time against Michigan.

Instead of coming away with a much-needed victory to boost their overall and conference records, or at least get two points in the Big Ten standings with a shootout win, the Spartans were saddled with a tie and only one point in the Big Ten, while Michigan skated away with two.

Ouch, ouch and more ouch.

“It’s definitely frustrating. It goes back to our inability to play with leads,’’ said MSU freshman center Sam Saliba, who had two goals, including the tying goal with 4:58 left in the third period.

“Again tonight, we had two leads, 2-0 (in the first period) and 3-2 (in the second), and it’s just our inability to close out leads. The shootout, well that can go either way and it was tough way for us to lose the shootout. (Overall), it definitely stings.’’

The Spartans (5-17-3 overall, 1-8-2-0 Big Ten) almost won the game 2:29 into overtime on a wide-angle shot by captain Joe Cox from along the right boards, about two feet out from the goal line.

Cox’s high shot rocketed over the left shoulder of Michigan goalie Hayden Lavigne and hit the crossbar and deflected down and to the left and outside the crease near the left post.



Ouch again.

So, it’s no 5-4 OT victory but a 4-4 tie, and the shootout to follow went five rounds with Michigan defenseman Sam Piazza scoring to start the fifth round and give his team a 2-1 edge.

The Wolverines won the shootout when MSU’s Logan Lambdin’s shot went wide to the left and U-M earned two points in the Big Ten standings and possession of the Duel in the D Trophy, while the Spartans came away with one point.

Fifth-place U-M (9-12-3, 2-7-2-2), with 10 points, is now five points ahead of the sixth-place Spartans.

“The shootout is a shootout. We had two good opportunities to win it and we didn’t,” MSU coach Tom Anastos said. “Taro (Hirose) had an open net and the puck rolled on him and Patty (Khodorenko) had a great chance and the puck rolled on him.’’

Cox scored MSU’s only goal in the shootout as the second shooter in the first round. The next six players missed – Jake Slater (U-M) and Hirose (MSU) in the second round; Cooper Marody (U-M) and Khodorenko (MSU, to win it) in the third round; Tony Calderone (U-M) and Saliba (MSU, to win it) in the fourth round.

Piazza finally broke the scoreless run and with Lambdin’s miss, the Wolverines had another SO win over the Spartans. Three weeks ago, the teams tied 2-2 at Munn Arena with U-M winning 1-0 in the shootout.

As far as the 65-minute, evenly played game, Anastos liked his team’s energy and compete level but did not care for the soft goals allowed late in the first period, after MSU had built a 2-0 lead on goals by Hirose 36 seconds into the game and Saliba on a 5-on-3 power play at 6:50.

“I thought our effort was solid and I liked the way we started, obviously, but our emotional energy took a hit after that second goal in the first period,’’ Anastos said. “I give our guys credit because we fought over it to work through the game.

“We have to make them earn their goals. The first goal was from below the goal line.’’

MSU goalie Ed Minney had a tough first period. On U-M’s first goal, at 14:54, Minney stopped Slaker’s shot coming down the left wing, but lost sight of the rebound, which slid toward the left corner, for a couple of seconds. Slaker got to the rebound and flipped the puck toward the net and it bounced off of Minney’s pad and slid into the net.

The Wolverines tied it 2-2 with 28 seconds left in the first period when the puck came loose in front and Max Shuart of U-M slid the puck under Minney (5 saves).

Lethemon replaced Minney to start the second period and gave up two goals – both to senior defenseman Nolan DeJong, on a power play at 16:05 of the second period to tie the game 3-3 and 2:40 into the third period to give the Wolverines a 4-3 lead. In his first 11 games as a Wolverines, DeJong had two goals. He doubled that on Friday.

Chris Knudson, playing in only his fourth game of the season, gave MSU a 3-2 lead midway through the second period. He slid a rebound under Lavigne from the left edge of the crease near the post for his second goal against U-M in three games.

Lethemon made 22 saves, including a couple of game-savers late in the third period.

“I thought Johnny (Lethemon) came in and did a good job and made some big saves when we needed them,’’ Anastos said.

Michigan State tied it when senior right wing Villiam Haag outworked a U-M defenseman along the right boards, worked himself free with the puck in the corner and sent a perfect pass into the crease. Saliba one-timed into the left corner make it 4-4.

“The outcome of the first period was disappointing. Goals can’t go in that easy, and that took some emotion out of our team,’’ Anastos said. “The second one took energy from us and we struggled in the second period.

“Michigan played a solid defensive game and that made it difficult for us. But again, I give our guys credit for fighting back.’’

Each team had two power plays and each scored one goal.

“It was a good game. Both teams played well and battled hard,’’ said sophomore center Mason Appleton, who assisted on his team’s first two goals. “We got the lead and then we got away from our game a little bit, we didn’t get pucks in deep and there were some weird goals. It was back-and-forth.’’

Four of the last six games between Michigan State and Michigan have gone into overtime, starting with last season’s 3-2 Spartans’ victory in the first Duel in the D at JLA. And now, the last three MSU-Michigan games at Joe Louis Arena have gone into overtime.

The Spartans and Wolverines (9-13-3, 2-7-2-2) close out their regular-season series with their fifth meeting at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at Yost Arena. Overall, the series stands at 1-1-2 for each team, including U-M’s 5-4 overtime victory in the third-place game of the Great Lakes Invitational in December.

Three weeks ago, the Spartans played one of their best games of the season with a 3-0 victory over Michigan at Yost Arena. For sure, it’ll be a tough challenge to do it again on Saturday.

“We have to build off that last performance we had there,’’ Saliba said. “We have to manage the puck very well and get in on their defense and play a smart 60. We were good on special teams that night. We scored one power-play goal and our penalty killing was good.’’

END OF AN ERA: With Joe Louis Arena closing this spring after a 38-year run, Michigan State and Michigan played for the last time in a regular-season game at the historic building which opened in 1979.

The back-and-forth game, complete with rallies, hard hits, big saves, eight goals and an overtime and shootout and witnessed by more than 17,770 fans made for a great finish for the Spartans-Wolverines series at the Joe.

“The atmosphere was great. People were jammin’ pretty good during the shootout,’’ MSU coach Tom Anastos said. “There were some exciting plays for both teams down the stretch.

“That was a pretty entertaining college hockey game for the fans.’’

And pretty special for the players, too.

“It’s really special to play here. You’re lining up for a faceoff and you can hear the “Go Green, Go White and Go Blue chants,’’ MSU sophomore center Mason Appleton said. “It’s so loud at times you can’t hear yourself think.’’

Next season, MSU and U-M will battle for the Duel in the D Trophy at the new, state-of-the-art Little Caesar’s Arena, which opens in the fall.

The Spartans and Wolverines played at least one regular-season game at JLA for 27 years, starting in 1991. For three seasons, the teams played two games at the Joe.

MSU and U-M played 30 times, with the Wolverines holding a 14-11-5 edge.

Both teams will play at least one more game at Joe Louis Arena in the Big Ten Tournament, March 16-18. But it’s unlikely they’ll face each other again unless it’s in the Big Ten title game.

SALIBA THRIVING: Sam Saliba, a 5-foot-11, 180-pound freshman forward from Lincolnshire, Ill., scored two goals Friday and had three shots on goal, and now has four goals and three assists for seven points in his last six games.

Saliba scored on a 5-on-3 power play at 6:50 of the first period. Mason Appleton got possession along the left boards and threaded a perfect pass to Saliba at the edge of the crease. Saliba reached out and directed the puck into the right corner.

In the third period, with MSU trailing 4-3 and time winding down Saliba found and open spot in the slot and took another pinpoint pass, this one from Villiam Haag, and fired it past U-M goalie Hayden Lavigne at 15:02.

“I loved the fight in us. No one ever let up. It was a great play by Villiam to get on their defenseman and make that play to me in the slot,’’ Saliba said. “It feels good to contribute but it would have been nice to get the win.

“In terms of the atmosphere, I’ve never played in a game like this before. With almost 18,000 people watching, it was a cool experience. It was awesome.’’

Last season, Saliba, 21, had 29 goals and 52 points for the Green Bay Gamblers of the U.S. Hockey League. He was 10th in the league in goals and 14th in points.

“He can score. He’s got a nice touch around the net,’’ coach Tom Anastos said. “I think he’s starting to gain some confidence and poise, and he’ll score his share of goals over a period of time.

“He had a good night tonight and was a real key guy for us on faceoffs (15 wins, 6 losses). As he gains more experience, he’s going to get better and better.’’

IN THE BIG TEN: Minnesota and Wisconsin started the weekend tied for first place in the conference, each with 8-2-0-0 records and 24 points. After Friday’s games, they’re still tied as both teams lost.

The No. 5 Gophers (17-8-2, 8-3-0-0) were upended at Ohio State, 5-4. They overcame a 2-0 deficit and took a 3-2 lead in the second period, but the No. 12 Buckeyes (14-7-6, 5-5-1-1) proceeded to score three straight goals and held on for a 5-4 victory.

OSU senior forward Nick Schilkey scored his Big Ten-leading 21st goal in the first period and he assisted on the Buckeyes’ go-ahead fourth goal on a power play early in the third period.

Meanwhile, the No 17 Badgers (15-9-1, 8-3-0-0) saw their five-game winning streak come to an end with a 6-3 loss at home against No. 10 Penn State (17-6-2, 6-4-1-0), which had lost four games in a row and were winless in five.

The Nittany Lions took a 2-0 lead in the first period, but Wisconsin tied it with two goals within a minute and two seconds early in the second period. Penn State replied with two goals in less than six minutes later in the period, and scored a shorthanded goal in the first minute of the third period to take a 5-2 lead.

After the Badgers scored a power-play goal with 3:39 left in the game to make it a two-goal deficit, Penn State wrapped up the win with an empty-net goal with 1:25 left.

Minnesota and Ohio State and Penn State and Ohio State complete their two-game series on Saturday.

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