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DETROIT — Michigan State and No. 13 Ohio State had played four close games during the regular season, three one-goal games and a two-goal game that ended with an empty netter, all since Feb. 17.
With the teams tied 3-3 at the end of the second period Thursday, this Big Ten quarterfinal game looked as though it would be another squeaker until Ohio State senior David Gust scored on the power play 25 seconds into the third and added an even-strength goal at 1:38, followed by Tanner Laczynski’s goal at 3:51 to put the Buckeyes ahead 6-3 before the third period was five minutes old.
“Giving up that power play, I thought that was a real key moment to start that third period,” said Michigan State coach Tom Anastos. “Somebody was going to get momentum. We’ve struggled this season to shut the power play down, as have many schools. We were hoping to shut it down and build some momentum. Didn’t work that way, they got it, and they moved ahead and scored a couple additional goals and had us reeling at that point.”
On his first goal, Gust picked up the rebound of Mason Jobst’s initial shot. His second goal was a highlight-reel affair: Alone on the right wing, Gust shot from the right circle and threaded the eight or so inches that Michigan State goaltender Ed Minney left between his elbow and the right post.
The quick momentum swing in the third mirrored the first period, when the Buckeyes had a 2-0 lead on goals by Jobst and Nick Schilkey by the 5:44 mark, but the Spartans scored three goals within a span of seven minutes to take the 3-2 lead after one.
Michigan State’s first two goals were set up beautifully by Patrick Khodorenko, first a backhanded feed to Villiam Haag at 8:58 and then a drop pass to Dylan Pavelek at 12:15. At 14:20, Sam Saliba fired from the right circle past Ohio State’s Matt Tomkins for the Spartans’ only lead in the game.
“You know, we know we’re a very offensive team and we knew the chances were going to come,” said Gust. “We just had to stay positive and play our game and we knew good things would happen.”
“I thought we were playing well down low and working them,” said Jobst, “and we were getting lots of shots. We just knew that we had to keep shooting and one would go through.”
Brendon Kearney had the equalizer for Ohio State at 13:54 of the second. “I can’t put it into words yet,” said Kearney, a lifelong Red Wings fan from nearby Northville, Mich. “To get a goal is something I’m going to remember forever.”
“Well, at this time of year, any time you can come away with a win, certainly your team has done some things right,” said Ohio State coach Steve Rohlik. “I can’t remember the last time I played, we played Michigan State and it hasn’t been an overtime or one-goal game. I’m proud of our group.”
Ohio State (20-10-6) will face No. 2 seed Wisconsin in the 4:30 p.m. EDT semifinal game Friday. The Badgers are a familiar foe for the Buckeyes, as Ohio State ended the regular season with a road sweep of Wisconsin just last weekend.
“First and foremost, last weekend is over,” said Rohlik. “That’s the first thing that we understand, and we know they’ve got a very good hockey team. We know they’re going to be a lot better.”
The Spartans end their season 7-23-4.