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Neil's Notebook: Late Push Falls Short in Loss to OSU

Feb. 19, 2017

By Neil Koepke staff writer

EAST LANSING – It’s difficult enough playing an offensive-minded team like Ohio State, which averages more than four goals a game.

But when you give up two goals within 37 seconds and fall behind 3-0 early in the second period, it makes the challenge of winning much more difficult.

That’s what happened to the Spartans on Saturday at Munn Arena as they wasted three power-play opportunities in the opening period and suddenly found themselves digging out of a deep hole in the second period.

To Michigan State’s credit, it showed some resiliency in battling back to cut the Buckeyes’ lead to 3-2 later in the second period, and again cut the deficit to one goal with six minutes left in the third period, trailing 4-3.

But the Spartans’ late push to tie it fell short and Ohio State held on for a 4-3 victory and a sweep of the two-game Big Ten series.

Once again, MSU played well at times and not-so-well during other stretches. And in the end, it wasn’t good enough to overcome a tough start and knock off the No. 14 Buckeyes.

“They were the better team tonight. I thought we were the better team Friday night,’’ said MSU sophomore forward Mason Appleton, who had a goal and an assist on Saturday.

“We did give ourselves a chance to win. We were down by one and pulled the goalie and had a couple of opportunities. But it’s tough losing two games at home.’’

Ohio State’s power play, which was 0-for-3 on Friday in the Buckeyes’ 3-2 series-opening victory, was a huge factor on Saturday. OSU scored two power-play goals on four opportunities – the first as a result of a lucky deflection in the first period and the second due to a highly skilled shot by senior right wing Nick Schilkey that made it 2-0 just 1:18 into the middle period.



After the Buckeyes added a sloppy third goal just 18 seconds after Schilkey’s perfect shot, the Spartans looked like they were in for a long, painful night.

Instead, MSU rebounded and made a game of it.

Just 48 seconds after going down 3-0, Spartan freshman Logan Lambdin tipped defenseman Carson Gatt’s shot from the point past goalie Christian Fry to make it 3-1.

Appleton’s goal, set up by a nice pass from Gatt, cut OSU’s lead to 3-2 at 13:16 of the second period and the Spartans were back in the game.

MSU then gave up a tough puck-luck goal off of a faceoff in the left circle in the defensive zone at 1:48 of the third period. Still battling, the Spartans made it 4-3 on Sam Saliba’s power-play goal at 13:58, set up by a perfect centering pass from Taro Hirose.

The Spartans pressured the Buckeyes and had a few good looks in the final minutes, and with goalie Ed Minney pulled for a sixth attacker, they still couldn’t find the back of the OSU net.

“It’s frustrating, it’s disappointing. Those guys in the locker room are playing hard,’’ MSU coach Tom Anastos said. “Last night, I thought we didn’t make enough plays at key times to be able to win that game. Tonight, falling behind (3-0) – we give credit to our team for fighting back – we just haven’t been able to generate any puck luck for ourselves and that creates a level of frustration.

“You look at the ebb and flow of the game, we had three power plays in the first period and we didn’t get anything out of it. I’m thinking that can really come back to bite you.’’

In a somewhat erratic game in which neither team had a lot of quality scoring chances, the Buckeyes (16-8-6 overall, 7-6-1-1 Big Ten) held a 24-19 edge in shots over the Spartans (6-19-3, 2-10-2-0).

Ohio State, not known for its defense, blocked 17 shots overall and seven in the third period.

“We had some good looks but we have to do a better job of getting pucks to the net,” Anastos said. “They blocked 17 shots. We had six shots on goal in the third period and 25 attempts (shots at the net) so they did a good job at defending.’’

Frey didn’t have to make many great saves but he was sharp, made a few clutch stops and didn’t allow rebounds.

“Overall, our execution wasn’t as good as it needed to be,’’ Appleton said. “We had chances and their goalie played well. With how fast the college game is, you have to have great detail in all the plays you make.

“You can’t put pucks in people’s feet because they can’t keep up their speed, and with the little one-timers, if you don’t put the puck in their wheelhouse, they have to catch the puck and shoot it.’’

After building up some momentum with last weekend’s tie and victory over Michigan, the Spartans quickly lost it with two losses to the Buckeyes, who entered the series as the second-highest scoring team in the nation.

Next weekend, Michigan State plays host to Penn State, the highest-scoring team in college hockey, averaging 4.18 goals per game.

“You have to keep up the wins or the momentum goes away,’’ Appleton said. “Losing two at home takes it all away. We have to come to work on Monday and have a good week of practice because we’re going to play a good team next weekend. We have to be ready for the challenge.’’

GATT STANDS OUT: Junior defenseman Carson Gatt had a solid game Saturday, making contributions on the offensive and defensive side of the puck.

He had two assists on goals by Logan Lambdin and Mason Appleton and was on the ice for Sam Saliba’s power-play goal late in the third period, and played a strong game defensively.

“I thought he played very well. His game is on the rise and his confidence is rising,’’ Coach Tom Anastos said. “He’s had to play against. He’s not the most fleet-footed guy but he finds a way. He has a big body, he’s strong and he can be physical.

“Offensively, he’s starting to get a bit of moxie and get a little confidence. I think his game has really elevated.’’

Gatt, a 6-foot-1, 202-pounder from South Lyon, is now the Spartans’ second-highest scoring defenseman with three goals and six assists for nine points in 24 games.

“I was the benefit of some good plays by the forwards tonight,’’ Gatt said of his two assists. “The assists are kind of a bonus to help out offensively.

“They came from a great tip by Logan Lambdin and a great play by Mason Appleton to get open and shoot the puck. I’m out there to be good defensively and block some shots on the penalty kill.

“Ohio State does a great job of flying their forwards behind you so you have to be aware that they might be flying behind you, looking for odd-man rushes. And in pinching down the offensive zone, you have to be careful because they’re a team that thinks offense first. They have some good skilled players.’’

SPARTAN POTPOURRI: With a goal and an assist, right wing Mason Appleton leads the Spartans in scoring with 11 goals and 14 assists for 24 points. He has seven power-play goals. . . . Ed Minney was back in goal for the Spartans after freshman John Lethemon started the last two games – the 4-1 win at Michigan and Friday’s 3-2 loss to Ohio State. Minney, who was pulled after the first period in his last two starts, made 20 saves, including 12 in the second period and a few big saves to keep the Spartans within striking distance of the Buckeyes. . . . Next Saturday is Senior Night as eight players will be honored after the game against Penn State. The senior class includes captain and right wing Joe Cox, defenseman Rhett Holland, who’s in his fifth season at MSU, and senior forwards Thomas Ebbing, Villiam Haag, Connor Wood, JT Stenglein, Chris Knudson, and Justin Selep.

IN THE BIG TEN: In one of the most bizarre and exciting finishes in college hockey this season, No. 5 Minnesota rallied from a 2-0 deficit and pulled out a stunning 4-3 overtime victory over No. 9 Penn State in a game that featured three late third period goals, including one on a penalty shot and one with 3.5 seconds left.

Gophers defenseman Jake Bischoff scored at 5:08 to cut the Nittany Lions lead to 2-1, and Minnesota tied it at 17:49 on Tyler Sheehy’s goal. But just 45 seconds later, Penn State’s Denis Smirnov was tripped from behind on a breakaway by Gophers defenseman Ryan Lindgren and Smirnov was awarded a penalty shot at 18:34.

Smirnov, a left-hand shot, went in close, faked a shot, went right and slipped the puck between legs of Minnesota goalie Eric Schierhorn to give Penn State a 3-2 lead.

The Gophers then pulled Schierhorn for a sixth attacker and pressed for the tying goal. The Nittany Lions contained Minnesota’s charge but iced the puck with seven seconds left, setting up a faceoff in the left circle, to the right of PSU goalie Peyton Jones.

Minnesota’s Taylor Cammarata won the draw, then kicked the puck behind him to Justin Kloos, who ripped a shot into the top right corner with 3.5 seconds showing on the clock.

After Minnesota failed to convert on an early power play in overtime, the Gophers won it on freshman Rem Pitlick’s screen shot from 10 feet out from the top of the left circle with 1:33 left in the OT.

Pitlick, a freshman, had three goals on Friday in Minnesota’s 6-3 victory. The Gophers (20-8-2, 11-3-0-0) won all four games with Penn State (18-8-2, 7-6-1) this season.

The dramatic victory Saturday kept first-place Minnesota three points ahead of second-place Wisconsin (17-10-1, 10-4-0-0), which completed a sweep of Michigan (9-16-3, 2-10-2-2) with a 6-4 win in Madison.

The No. 20 Badgers broke a 4-4 tie on defenseman Peter Tischke’s goal at 11:03 of the third period and added an empty-netter by Aidan Cavallini, his second goal of the game. Standout freshman center Trent Frederic scored two goals for Wisconsin in the first period.

In addition to the Michigan State-Penn State series next Friday and Saturday, Wisconsin visits Minnesota and Ohio State plays host to Michigan.

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