Struggling Michigan State was exactly where they wanted to be: at home with a lead in the third period over their arch-rival, the No. 14 Michigan Wolverines.
However, when the Wolverines scored with 2:29 left to tie the game, the impending sense of doom hovered over the Munn Arena crowd, as they’ve become shell-shocked by their once-proud program’s fall into the depths of doormat status.
The inevitable axe fell just 67 seconds later when Michigan scored again to take the lead for good with 1:36 left in the game.
With the 5-3 win, No. 14 Michigan improved to 11-7-0 on the season (7-5-0-0 in the CCHA), while the unranked Spartans saw their winless streak extended to eleven games in heartbreaking fashion and fell to 4-11-3 overall, including 2-8-2-2 in conference play.
“It’s been a long time since we’ve had our way with this team, whether it’s here or at home, for two games on a weekend,” said Michigan coach Red Berenson. “So good weekend for us.”
Sophomore wing Carl Hagelin got the game-tying goal in the third period and sophomore center Louie Caporusso scored the game-winner for the Wolverines. Senior center Travis Turnbull copped the hat trick with an empty netter to provide the final margin.
“That whole game, it was amazing how the goals came in spurts,” Berenson said. “Two goals, two goals, two goals. It was just that kind of a game.”
Coming off three straight appearances in the NCAA Regional Finals, including the 2007 national title, this is not where the Spartans expected to be in early December.
“You’re trying to get something positive and let them leave the rink in the frame of mind that they get a smile on their face,” Michigan State coach Rick Comley said. “To let it slip away like that keeps making the mountain higher to climb. It’s tough on the kids; it’s tough on everybody.”
Unlike Friday night’s blowout in Ann Arbor, this game actually was a close contest all the way through into the third period.
The first period ended in a scoreless tie, as both teams had good scoring chances but were unable to penetrate the other team’s goaltender. Michigan’s best scoring chance came short-handed, while Michigan State nearly netted a goal only to have it waved off by the referees.
Regardless, the opening frame had to be viewed as a success for Michigan State after they were drilled for six goals Friday night against the Wolverines. Senior goaltender Jeff Lerg stopped 16 shots in the first period while sophomore goaltender Bryan Hogan stopped nine shots for Michigan.
Just like Friday night, Michigan State got on the board first with a goal in the second period. This time, it was a power-play tally for the Spartans 9:20 into the period, as sophomore defenseman Jeff Petry put a slap shot on net from right side of the zone past Hogan for the 1-0 lead. Sophomore wing Corey Tropp and senior wing Matt Schepke got the assists.
Michigan State couldn’t hold the lead for long, though, as Michigan took advantage of a five-on-three opportunity with 4:44 left in the period to tie the score, 1-1, when Turnbull scored with the two-man advantage.
Just 50 seconds later, while still with a power play advantage, Michigan scored again to take the lead when Turnbull slipped a loose puck just past Lerg’s left hip into the net for his second goal of the period.
“We took advantage of a couple opportunities and made good plays to finish our chances,” Berenson said. “A little better luck, but we’ll take it.”
When Michigan State tied the score just 1:07 into the third period, the stage was set for a great final frame. Sophomore wing Dustin Gazely put a shot over Hogan’s shoulder from the slot to knot the game at 2-2.
Just 30 seconds later, the Spartans had a three-on-one breakaway opportunity and converted to take the 3-2 lead. Gazely took a crossing pass on the right side of the net from Rowe and buried the puck to give MSU the lead again, and perhaps their best chance to end their winless streak.
“I don’t know if was the bounces or the breaks, but we had the lead and all of a sudden, bang,” said Berenson. “Two goals and they have the lead. And then near the end, bang bang: we get two goals. I think it was a game of bounces and breaks.”
Next up for the Wolverines is the first round of the Great Lakes Invitational against Michigan Tech at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit on December 27. Meanwhile, Michigan State plays an exhibition against the U.S. Under-18 Team on December 16 before facing North Dakota at the GLI on December 27.
With both Michigan Tech (2-12-1) and North Dakota (6-8-1) struggling this season, there is a distinct chance these two teams could meet again on December 28 in the finals of the GLI.