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mistake, no argument about this one. The 5-0 score was not a misprint Saturday night in Munn Ice Arena.
Michigan State played a comprehensive game against No. 17 Minnesota from start — a goal by Mason Appleton in the first minute of the game — to finish while recording its first shutout victory in nearly four months.
“I think everybody was feeling it tonight,” MSU goaltender Jake Hildebrand said after stopping 28 pucks in his first shutout since Nov. 6 vs. New Hampshire. “I thought we had 20 guys going tonight, and when we get 20 guys going, we’re a pretty tough team to beat, especially at home in front of our home crowd.”
The Spartans (10-21-3, 6-11-1-0) were efficient on offense, scoring two well-worked goals in the first period and two equally good ones in the second. Defensively, they forechecked with aggression, blocking 21 shots and killing off five power plays in a row. As the last line of defense, Hildebrand was confident and sharp in the cage, as the senior posted his 13th career shutout.
As a result, a Minnesota team that is not just battling for PairWise positioning but could have put serious distance between itself and second-place Michigan in the Big Ten standings instead had to accept the loss.
“We just weren’t good enough,” coach Don Lucia said. “They were the better team tonight. We made a couple mistakes tonight. … You make mistakes this time of year, you’re going to pay, and we paid.”
Villiam Haag had two goals for the Spartans — his first tallies since Feb. 6 — and an assist while Joe Cox and captain Michael Ferrantino also tallied.
However, it was Appleton who set the tone for the game just 46 seconds after the opening faceoff. A Minnesota turnover in the neutral zone let the Spartans attack with speed, and Appleton skated to the left faceoff dot and roofed a shot short-side over Eric Schierhorn’s blocker for his fifth goal of the season.
Cox made it 2-0 at 13:54 in a goal notable for the quickness with which it developed. Off a faceoff in the Michigan State defensive zone, MacEachern backhanded the puck to Cox as he raced behind the defense. Cox corralled the pass and put a forehand-backhand-forehand move past Schierhorn for his ninth goal.
“Right from the first couple of shifts, I thought our forechecking was pretty aggressive,” Michigan State coach Tom Anastos said. “I thought our first guy got on people quicker, and I thought our second guy got to pucks quicker, and that set a tempo for our rhythm early in the game. We got rewarded with some goals in the first period, and we built on that.”
Haag’s tallies both came in the second. Just 3:14 into the frame, he scored on a power play to make it 3-0, drawing Michael Brodzinski to the ice with a hesitation move before firing over Schierhorn’s blocker.
That sent Schierhorn to the bench in favor of Brock Kautz, who was making his first career action. Schierhorn made 10 saves on 13 shots.
Minnesota responded to the move as it strung together a series of power plays, but Hildebrand stood tall on chances by Justin Kloos and Tommy Novak and a one-on-one stare-down with Vinni Lettieri. Then, the back-breaker came at 16:44 as the Spartans again scored in transition, with Matt DeBlouw centering to Haag for a one-handed deflection over the glove of Kautz.
Michigan State had to kill a major penalty to Rhett Holland for hitting from behind 6:45 into the third, but the Golden Gophers (18-15-0, 13-4-0-0) had just two shots on goal during the five minutes.
“There’s a lot of pride in the locker room on the penalty kill,” Anastos said. “Last year we had no success against these guys on our PK. I mean zero, and we had a good PK unit last year. I think guys dug a little bit deeper, and we’re getting better each week, and I thought we did a real good job against them tonight.”
Minnesota went 0-for-5 on the power play, with the Golden Gophers scoreless on the man advantage for the sixth straight game.
“Our power play hasn’t been good — hasn’t been good in a while,” Lucia said. “I can’t say there was a phase of our game that we were where we needed to be on the road tonight.”
Michigan State, meanwhile, added a man-up tally for good measure with 1:13 to play when Ferrantino banged a rebound past Kautz.
“It was just a real fun game to play,” Cox said. “Everyone was in the game. When that happens and you’re having fun, things are going your way and time is just flying. That was a really big factor.”
Minnesota played without forward Leon Bristedt, who was suspended one game by the Big Ten for an incident that occurred in Friday night’s game.
The Spartans finish the regular season next weekend with a home series vs. Ohio State, while Minnesota remains in first place and will try to close out the Big Ten title with a home set against rival Wisconsin.