EAST LANSING, Mich. — No. 1 Michigan State rang in the new year by further affirming its billing as the nation’s top team.
Returning to the friendly confines of Munn Arena, the surging Spartans outplayed and outmuscled a slumping Yale team, capping a weekend sweep with a 4-0 win Saturday night.
MSU netminder Ryan Miller was phenomenal between the pipes once again, recording his fifth shutout of the season. The whitewash also was No. 12 for his career, tying him with Chad Alban for the MSU career record.
His play was even more impressive considering it came following a day off, and it came a week after a grueling three-and-a-half hour, overtime slugfest with Michigan Tech in which the sophomore stopped 42 shots.
“If we didn’t have good goaltending, they probably would have scored three goals tonight,” said Spartans coach Ron Mason. “[Yale]‘s a darn good offensive team.”
“It’s fantastic,” Mason said about Miller’s record. “If any player on our team breaks a record, it says a lot about the team. It’s the result of the whole team, not just one player.”
The visiting Bulldogs peppered Miller all night long, bombarding him with 36 shots on net and three or four outstanding scoring opportunities.
“I give them a lot of credit,” said Miller, referring to Yale. “They came out flying. But the guys really stepped it up and played good defense.”
The Spartans increased their unbeaten streak to 18 games (15-0-3), while the visiting Bulldogs dropped their sixth contest in their last seven. The Spartans also finished their non-conference schedule undefeated (6-0-1).
Despite being ousthot 36-27, Michigan State earned its 16th win in what appeared to be dominant fashion. Mason, however, didn’t see it that way at all.
“We beat a team and on paper made it look easy,” said Mason. “To me, the score was no indication of the game.”
Mason pointed to the special teams as the primary reason the Spartans won as handily as they did. On the power play, MSU scored twice in six chances, while the Bulldogs finished 0-for-3.
“I think if you take out the special teams, it’s a whole different series,” he said. “They blew it wide open both nights.”
After a slow start the previous night, MSU wasted no time establishing itself on the offensive end Saturday. Just 4:49 into the contest, defenseman Andrew Hutchinson put the home team on the board and broke a scoreless tie.
The junior ripped a slap shot from just inside the Yale blue line, and as Bulldog goalie Dan Lombard dropped to make the save, the puck slid through his five hole and into the back of the net.
Hutchinson’s third tally of the season, assisted by sophomore Troy Ferguson, gave the Spartans a lead they would never relinquish.
Less than five minutes later, the Spartans stretched their lead to 2-0 with their 30th power-play goal of the season.
Defenseman John-Michael Liles acted as the instigator of the goal, making a pretty cross-ice pass from the near point to center Jeremy Jackson. Jackson then made a feed from behind the end line to forward Adam Hall, who used perfect position in front of the net to poke home his 11th marker of the season.
For much of the second, Michigan State appeared content with its two-goal lead, managing just two shots on goal through over 12 minutes of play.
The Bulldogs, on the other hand, had plenty of chances to cut into the MSU lead. Generating 14 shots on goal over the course of the period, they got some great scoring opportunities. Their best probably came when center Gabe Polsky skated slipped past the Spartan defense, received a perfect centering pass, but couldn’t put the puck past a sprawling Miller.
“In the first period, I thought we played our best hockey,” said Mason. “In the second, I thought they played their best. We got two goals out of it and they got none.”
At the 5:52 mark of the third, MSU expanded its lead to 3-0 as Damon Whitten notched his eighth goal of the year. Just before the Bulldogs returned to full strength, Brad Fast fired a slap shot from the far point that Whitten redirected past Lombard.
Nearly five minutes later, the pair teamed up again to increase the Spartan lead to 4-0. Ripping a blistering one-timer on a feed from John Nail, Fast had his shot redirected by Whitten once again. This time, Whitten deflected the puck into the top of the net, past a perplexed Lombard.
“It’s been like a movie lately,” said Whitten. “A big lane opened up, we made eye contact, and Fast made a great play.”
The MSU victory ran the Spartans’ NCAA-best record to 16-1-4, while Yale fell to 6-8-0 on the season.
“They came right at us with everything they had tonight,” said Fast. “They played with a lot of intensity and emotion.”
Next weekend, the Spartans travel to Lake Superior in a weekend series with the Lakers. Yale will begin a five-game home stand that will begin Friday with a visit from Brown. Both teams’ games begin at 7 p.m. EST.