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Neil’s Notebook: Game One Slips Away From Spartans in the Third Period

March 3, 2018

By Neil Koepke staff writer

COLUMBUS, Ohio – For most of the last two months, Michigan State has outplayed opponents in the third period. But that wasn’t the case here Friday against Ohio State.

The Spartans watched a close, winnable game turn into a runaway loss as the Buckeyes in the final period scored two early goals, two late goals and cruised to a 6-2 victory in the first game of a best-of-three, first-round Big Ten playoff series at Value City Arena.

Trailing 2-1 after two periods, MSU got outshot 21- 7 in the third period, 40-20 overall, and now the Spartans must win Saturday to even the series or their season will come to an end.

“We’re playing in an elimination game. It’s win or go home for the year,’’ MSU senior defenseman and assistant captain Carson Gatt said. “I don’t think I have to say much. The guys know the stakes. We have to win to stay alive and we have to keep on winning from here on out to keep our season alive.’’

Michigan State (12-21-2), the 7th seed, and Ohio State (22-8-5), the No. 2 seed, meet in Game 2 at 7 p.m. Saturday. If the Spartans win, the deciding Game 3 will be at 7 p.m. on Sunday.

In the first two periods Friday, the difference in the game was special teams. OSU scored two power-play goals in three opportunities while MSU was 0-for-2.

The Spartans’ Patrick Khodorenko tied the game 1-1 at 3:12 of the second period with a quick wrist shot from the slot, but the Buckeyes took the lead for good on Matthew Weiss’ power-power play goal on a re-direction with 3:28 left in the middle period.

Unlike last Saturday’s 4-3 come-from-behind win at Notre Dame in which they controlled the final period, the Spartans’ bid to rally fell short – way short. OSU got a deflection goal from Matthew Weiss at 1:54 and defenseman Sasha Larocque’s shot from the left point eluded goalie John Lethemon at 6:36, and suddenly it was 4-1. The Buckeyes added two more goals, sandwiched around MSU defenseman Damian Chrcek’s first goal of the year at 18:39. OSU’s sixth goal was scored with 00.3 seconds left and fittingly, it came on a power play.



“We did some things OK but they took the play to us in the third period. I thought it was a little bit of youth and inexperience and not ready to deal with their pushback,’’ MSU coach Danton Cole said. “We got back on our heels and weren’t playing well.

“We had one guy working and four guys watching, and we were that way offensively and defensively.

“When you’re moving in units of one, you look faster and move the puck better and good things happen. And when we did that, we got things done and when we didn’t, we didn’t get things done. Unfortunately, there was too much of the latter.’’

After Ohio State’s fourth goal at 6:36 of the third period, Cole replaced Lethemon, who made 25 saves, with senior Ed Minney, who made nine saves and was beaten for two goals the rest of the game.

“Their power play was good, and on the last one, we got out of sorts and it wasn’t even their power play – they just moved the puck around,’’ Cole said. “We’ve got to do a better job. We’ve got to get some saves at certain times. That’s a big thing with penalty killing. Their second power play, we held them to no shots (on goal) and they didn’t score.’’

Another area which MSU struggled was on faceoffs. In most games, the Spartans have an edge in draws or are close to the opposition. But on Friday, Ohio State held a surprising 38-18 edge.

On the Buckeyes’ first two goals – both on power plays – a faceoff win led to a quick score. In the first period, OSU’s Tanner Laczynski scored 10 seconds into the power play – at 17:42 - after the Buckeyes won the faceoff and got the puck back to the point.

Late in the second period, OSU went up 2-1 eight seconds after the start of a power play, set up by winning the faceoff in the MSU zone.

“We weren’t very good on draws. That’s the way our team goes – you see if we’re ready to go if we’re winning draws,’’ Cole said. “We won the first one (of the game), but after that we were dominated.’’

One of the Spartans’ strengths this season has been their ability to rebound from a first-night loss and rough performance and play at higher level and win the second game of the series. Once again, that’s the challenge facing this team on Saturday.

“We’ll find out some things and figure out a couple of things to do to give ourselves a good chance to win tomorrow,’’ Cole said. “There’s things we an do better. It was 2-1 going into the third period and we put ourselves in a decent position. They had not scored an even-strength goal until the third period.

“We got disjoined in the third period and playing a little too much one-on-one hockey and that’s not going to get us anywhere.’’

A month ago, Ohio State defeated Michigan State, 4-2, in the series opener. But the Spartans rebounded the next night, winning 6-3 to earn a split in the series.

That’s their quest in Game 2 of this series, with the end of the season on the line on Saturday night in the most important game of the 2017-18 season.

“I thought we played well in the first and second periods but giving up those power-play goals was a bummer,’’ Gatt said. “But we thought we were right in the game. Obviously, the third period got away from us.

“They got some goals that were a little deflating, and I don’t think we responded as well as we could. There’s a decent amount of things we can take from the game tonight. We just have to bear down on those things and come out even harder tomorrow.’’

THE STATS STORY: Patrick Khodorenko’s 12th goal of the season, at 3:12 of the first period, was set up by a pass into the slot by linemate Taro Hirose, for his 29th assist of the season. Brody Stevens also assisted on the play.

Defenseman Damian Chrcek’s first goal of the season, with 1:22 left in the game, was assisted by defenseman Zach Osburn and freshman center Gino Esteves.

Ohio State got goals from six players – Tanner Laczynski, Matthew Weiss, Mason Jobst, Sasha Larocque, John Wiitala and Christian Lampasso. Jobst also had two assists, as did defenseman Wyatt Ege and forward Brandon Kearney. Laczynski had one assist.

The Spartans gave up 40 shots on goal and also blocked 27 shots as OSU had 70 shot attempts to 40 for MSU.

IN THE BIG TEN: Penn State broke a 2-2 tie with two goals in the last two minutes of the second period and held on for a 5-3 victory over Minnesota in the first game of their best-of-three series at University Park, Pa.

Dennis Smirnov gave the Nittany Lions a 3-2 lead at 18:49 and Andrew Sturtz scored at 19:45 to boost PSU’s lead to 4-2. After Gophers freshman Casey Mittelstadt’s power-play goal at 15:00 of the third period made it 4-3, Penn State sealed the win with an empty-net goal by freshman Evan Barratt with 30 seconds left.

Surprisingly, Minnesota outshot PSU, 35-30. The Nittany Lions average 40.1 shots on goal per game.

Meanwhile, the Michigan-Wisconsin quarterfinal series opener in Ann Arbor turned into a crazy outing full of goals.

U-M’s Tony Calderone’s fourth goal of the game at 11:07 of the third period broke a 5-5 tie and the Wolverines held off the Badgers the rest of the way to claim a 6-5 victory.

Wisconsin, after going to down 1-0, built a 3-1 lead in the first period with three goals in 4 minutes and 5 seconds – from 3:58 to 8:03. But Michigan replied with three goals – all on the power play - within 4:55 – 13:14, 16:22 and 18:09 – to take a 4-3 lead. The Wolverines’ fourth consecutive power-play goal made it 5-3 at 3:20 of the second period as Calderone scored his third goal of the game.

Wisconsin battled back to tie it 5-5 as freshman Linus Weissbach scored on a power play at 10:00 of the second period and Ryan Wagner scored on a power play at 1:13 of the third period.

Calderone’s fourth goal and 23rd of the season midway through the third period won it for U-M, which was 4-for-5 on the power play. Wisconsin went 2-for-4 with the man advantage.

The Badgers outshot the Wolverines, 53-29, including 18-7 in the third period.

Penn State and Minnesota and Michigan and Wisconsin meet in Game 2 on Saturday night. If there’s a Game 3, it’ll be played on Sunday night.

Notre Dame, the Big Ten’s regular-season champion, earned a first-round bye. The Irish will host the lowest-seeded surviving team in the Big Ten semifinals next Saturday in South Bend.

The conference tile game is set for March 17 at the highest remaining seed after next weekend’s semifinals.

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