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Neil’s Notebook: Spartans Edged, 3-2, as Rally Comes Up Short

Feb. 11, 2018

By Neil Koepke staff writer

DETROIT – Down 2-0 to Michigan, Michigan State battled to make it 2-1 in the first minute of the third period.

Down 3-1, the Spartans pushed back to make it 3-2 with 4:34 left in the third period.

And down 3-2, MSU came within inches of tying the game – and maybe sending it into overtime for the second straight night – with 2:29 to go.

But an outstanding, timely, goal-line save by a Wolverine defenseman – not goalie Hayden Lavigne – kept Michigan State from making it 3-3.

Michigan survived four good scoring chances by the Spartans during the exciting sequence and held on for a 3-2 victory in the Big Ten series finale on Saturday night in front of an announced sellout crowd of 19,515 at Little Caesars Arena.

“The guys gave us all they had tonight,’’ MSU coach Danton Cole said. “I liked what we did in the third period. We battled hard.’’

The save of the night was made by U-M junior defenseman Joseph Cecconi at 17:31 of the final period. It came on a backhand shot by MSU junior right wing Cody Milan from the left edge of the crease that appeared headed over Lavigne and into the net.

But Cecconi moved into the crease and, while straddling the goal line with his back against the crossbar, he blocked Milan’s shot with his glove and pushed it back out into the crease as he fell forward.

Then as Logan Lambdin of the Spartans tried to backhand the puck toward the right corner, Cecconi, while sprawled on the ice, again used his glove to deflect it to his left and out of danger.

The officials went to video review to see if the puck crossed the goal line before being blocked by Cecconi. Eventually, they ruled it no goal.



Fox Sports Detroit replays showed it was unclear whether the puck crossed the plain of the goal line. But they also showed that Cecconi closed his hand on the puck briefly before pushing it forward, and that should have resulted in a penalty shot. But the officials didn’t see it and that’s not a reviewable play.

Cole said he was hoping the referees would have a replay view that would show the puck crossed the goal line in the air, but did not dispute the final no-goal ruling.

“They couldn’t see it cross the line. They spent a lot of time on it and they have good views and they’re making the best decision they can,’’ he said.

Saturday’s loss ended MSU’s two-game unbeaten streak (1-0-1) and halted U-M’s two-game winless streak (0-1-1).

Michigan (14-13-3, 9-10-3-2 Big Ten) held a 2-0 lead after 40 minutes on goals by Cooper Marody at 4:22 of the first period and Jack Becker on power play at with 1:30 left in the second period.

Michigan State (10-18-2, 4-14-2-1) skated off all but four seconds of a five-minute major penalty and game misconduct assessed to Mitch Lewandowski for checking from behind but Becker tapped in a rebound to give U-M a two-goal cushion.

Taro Hirose capped a nifty faceoff play with Patrick Khodorenko to score MSU’s first goal just 21 seconds into the third period. He found some room in the slot and beat Lavigne to the lower left corner.

“Patty decided to call the ‘over the top play’ and he won the faceoff really good and (David) Keefer sort of cut off their guy and gave me some room,’’ Hirose said. “I just tried to get it on net and went low blocker.’’

The goal was Hirose’s 10th of the season and boosted his team-leading points total to 33.

Khodorenko and Hirose had golden opportunities to tie the game during a power play with 6:39 and 6:34 to go. Lavigne made a blocker save on Khodorenko, and after MSU retrieved the puck and set up Hirose, he stopped that shot with his blocker.

“We were kind of peppering them and I thought he was kind of low on the right side and I saw an opening and I think he got his blocker on it,’’ Khodorenko said. “We were playing faster in the third period. Everyone was going and not being hesitant.

“We were keeping pucks deep and getting in on their defense and were creating chances from that.’’

About 40 seconds after Lavigne made the two clutch saves, Michigan capped a nice passing play from Marody to Cecconi to a wide-open defenseman Quinn Hughes, whose fluttering shot from close in slid under the pad of MSU goalie John Lethemon at 14:06.

One minute and 19 seconds later, the Spartans closed their deficit to 3-2 when freshman David Keefer scored from the left circle, beating Lavigne to the top right corner.

Two minutes later, came the Spartans’ last gasp surge. After Saliba won a faceoff in the right circle in the U-M zone, Lambdin slid the puck back to defenseman Zach Osburn, whose slap shot was stopped by Lavigne. Saliba tried to tap the loose puck past Lavigne but he blocked it. The puck stayed alive and came out front to Milan with Lavigne sprawled in the crease.

Milan was looking at lots of room over Lavigne and sent a backhander targeted for the back of the not, only to have Cecconi make the save of the night and possibly his career.

“We played with more desperation in the third period,’’ Hirose. “We were down 2-0 and just started pushing. We were playing a lot faster and keeping it simple. We got the puck in deep and kept doing what we do.’’

Cole thought his team was much better offensively than it was on Friday in the 2-2 tie and shootout loss at Munn Arena. But on the flip side, not as good defensively.

“After the second period, we said (in the locker room) that we were doing a lot better things offensively than we did on Friday,’’ he said. “I don’t know if we were as good defensively. All three of their goals were from mistakes through the slot.

“Friday night, we did a great job with that. That has to be automatic for us. Offensively, we forechecked better and had more scoring chances and that’s a good sign.’’

On Friday, Michigan had a 38-18 edge in shots, but it was almost even Saturday as the Spartans had one more shot on goal than the Wolverines, 34-33. The Spartans outshot U-M, 12-5 in the third period.

Michigan was 1-for-6 on the power play (although one penalty was for four seconds) with 14 shots on Lethemon, including five during the five-minute major penalty.

The Spartans took two penalties in the first period, two in the second and one in the third, and almost each time they halted momentum.

But Cole said he doesn’t want to take away his team’s aggressiveness by trying to play cautious.

“Every time we seemed to get rolling, we had to come back and kill a penalty,’’ he said. “It’s a fine line. You want to be aggressive but you have to keep sticks down and take less penalties.

“I don’t want to take away from the aggressive side. Be smarter for sure when we play hard. That’s when we’re better.

“It’s hard to get a team that hasn’t won a lot of games to get to the point to play that way. It’s easy to get cautious but you can’t play that way.’’

Comparing hockey and auto racing, Cole made reference to the movie, “Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby.”

“You think back to Ricky Bobby. America’s all about hot, badass, nasty speed. That’s how you have to play the game of hockey. Ricky Bobby, the famous hockey . . . sage,’’ Cole said with a laugh.

UP NEXT: Michigan State will play its final two home games of the regular season with a two-game series against Penn State – at 6:30 p.m. on Friday and at 5 p.m. on Saturday at Munn Arena. Saturday will be Senior Night, honoring Spartan seniors Carson Gatt, Dylan Pavelek and Ed Minney.

GO GREEN, GO WHITE: There was a great contingent of Spartan fans at Little Caesars Arena but it took them a while to make their presence felt. That’s because they didn’t have much to cheer about until MSU scored its first goal in the first minute of the third period.

They were loud and supportive the rest of the third period as the Spartans created lots of scoring chances and almost tied the game. The support didn’t not go unnoticed by the players.

“It was awesome. Every time we scored, we got the chills hearing the crowd go ‘Go Green, Go White’ and that helped push us on,’’ sophomore left wing Taro Hirose said. “It was great to be a part of that.’’

KEEFER DELIVERS: Freshman David Keefer started Saturday’s game on right wing on a forward line with Tommy Apap at center and Brennan Sanford on the left. When Mitch Lewandowski was lost for the night for taking a checking from behind major penalty and game misconduct at 13:34 of the second period, Keefer moved up to the top line with Patrick Khodorenko and Taro Hirose.

Keefer responded and make a nice play to score MSU’s second goal with 5:54 left in the third period. He took a pass from Khodorenko in the left circle, moved to the net and beat U-M goalie Hayden Lavigne to the top right corner.

Keefer’s goal was his third of the season and second in his last three games. He scored a highlight-reel goal in the second period against Ohio State last Saturday.

“Keefer has jumped in and has scored a few nice goals,’’ Coach Danton Cole said. “He had a nice one last week at Ohio State. He’s a good player and had a lot of success in the USHL and he’s feeling his way through (as a freshman).’’

IN THE BIG TEN: One day after clinching the regular-season Big Ten title, No. 1 Notre Dame lost at home against second-place Ohio State, 5-1. The Irish won Friday’s series opener, 2-1, thanks to stellar goaltending by Hobey Baker candidate Cale Morris.

On Saturday, Morris was replaced by backup Dylan St. Cyr after allowing four goals at 7:53 of the third period

The No. 6-ranked Buckeyes, who stopped a two-game losing streak, held a 2-1 lead entering the period and pulled away with three unanswered goals to earn the series split.

Notre Dame outshot OSU 23-11 in the second period, but goalie Sean Romeo of the Buckeyes gave up only one goal.

No. 12 Minnesota completed a sweep of No. 17 Wisconsin with a 7-1 romp over the Badgers on Saturday at the Kohl Center in Madison. The Gophers won, 4-2, on Friday.

Minnesota built a 3-1 lead in the first period and added two goals in each of the last two periods.

After earning five points in its series vs. MSU, Michigan climbed over Wisconsin and took over third place in the Big Ten with 32 points, three head of fourth-place Minnesota (29) and four in front of the Badgers (28), now in fifth place.

Penn State which was idle this weekend, is in sixth place with 25 points.

Notre Dame, Ohio State, Minnesota, Penn State and MSU have four games remaining. Michigan and Wisconsin have two.

To start the Big Ten playoffs, regular-season champion Notre Dame gets a first-round bye. Teams finishing second, third and fourth are home for the first round of best-of-three series, March 2-4.

No. 2 plays host to No. 7, No. 3 faces No. 6 and it’s No. 4 vs. No. 6.

If the season ended on Saturday, No. 7 MSU would be at No. 2 Ohio State, No. 3 Michigan would host No. 6 Penn State and No. 4 Minnesota would be home against No. 5 Wisconsin.

The lowest-surviving seed would be matched up in a single game semifinal at Notre Dame on March 10. The other first-round winning teams would face off at the higher seed on March 10.

The Big Ten title game is set for March 17 with highest seed getting home ice.

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