EAST LANSING, Mich. — In Friday night’s 1-0 victory over Miami, a lifeless Michigan State offense struggled to put anything past Miami goalie David Burleigh. Despite peppering the netminder with 26 shots — including 17 in the second period alone — MSU simply could not manage to consistently bury the puck.
In Saturday’s contest, however, forward John Nail came to the Spartans’ rescue. Already the hero three weeks earlier in the Great Lakes Invitational championship, the senior jump-started the MSU offense by rattling off three straight goals in the Spartans’ 5-0 victory over the RedHawks.
“He’s our poster child for hard work and dedication,” MSU coach Ron Mason said of Nail. “He’s done all the things you need to do away from the ice. I couldn’t be more happy for a kid who’s having a year like he’s having. He deserves it.”
Goaltender Ryan Miller stopped 32 shots in recording his 15th career shutout. The whitewash topped Michigan’s Marty Turco for the modern-day NCAA record, and put the sophomore within one of Clarkson’s Wally Easton for the all-time record.
“It was nice,” Miller said. “I don’t want to dwell on it too much, though. Right now, I just have to keep on track. I try not to make a big deal out of it because hockey’s sort of a fickle sport.”
“Ryan Miller’s on a hot streak right now,” said Mason. “I like to see goalies get shutouts when they deserve it. It was nice to see him get one tonight.”
It didn’t take long for Nail and the Spartans to get the offense going. Just 39 seconds into the first, Nail buried his ninth marker of the season and put the Spartans on top 1-0. Forward Andrew Bogle began the play by firing a shot from the slot wide of Burleigh, and a friendly carom off the boards kept the puck in the Spartans’ possession.
Sean Patchell gathered the rebound in the far circle, made a gorgeous centering pass to Nail, and Nail one-timed the puck off Burleigh’s left pad and into the back of the net.
“That first goal was probably the easiest goal I’ve had since I’ve been here,” said Nail with a laugh.
Nearly 11 minutes later, the senior extended the MSU lead to 2-0 with his third power-play tally of the season. Burleigh was able to stop a sizzling slap shot from defenseman Andrew Hutchinson, but Nail corralled the rebound in the far circle and flipped the puck past the RedHawk goaltender.
The outset of the second period once again saw the Spartans capitalize early. This time, it took just 14 seconds for Nail to net No. 3 on the night. Taking a feed from Bogle, Nail blasted a shot from the far circle, and the puck sailed past a stunned Burleigh and into the top corner of the net.
“I don’t really score that much, so it’s a real accomplishment for me, I guess,” Nail said of the hat trick. “I just like to shoot the puck on net and see what happens.”
The second period was just under way, and already trailing 3-0, it seemed as though the RedHawks had dug themselves a hole too deep to climb out of.
“I thought they were very opportunistic in the first period,” Miami coach Enrico Blasi said.
Following the third MSU goal, Blasi opted to sit Burleigh in favor of freshman netminder David Bowen. Burleigh went to the bench having given up a trio of goals despite facing just five shots.
“He just had an off night,” said Blasi.
The Spartans tacked on another pair of goals against Bowen, the first coming on a 5-on-3 advantage at the 14:53 mark of the second. Defenseman Brad Fast fired a slap shot, beating Bowen top-shelf for his second of the season, and the Spartans had their second power-play tally of the game.
Adam Hall ran the MSU lead to 5-0 late in the third, scoring on a slap shot from the slot at the 17:29 mark. It was Hall’s team-leading 12th goal of the season.
“I liked the way the kids played,” said Mason, who brought his career CCHA win total to 400 with the victory. “They went to the net with more purpose tonight.”
The win over Miami not only extended the Spartans’ lengthy unbeaten streak to an incredible 22 games (19-0-3), but it also increased their lead in the CCHA standings to five points over second-place Michigan.
“We’re proud of what we did this weekend,” said Nail. “I think our team’s building on our success, and I think that’s a sign of a team willing to work hard.”
“The most important thing is to keep things going,” added Mason. “This team has a chance to be a great team, and now we’ve got to turn around and prove it.”
The Spartans don’t have much time to savor the weekend sweep, however, with a game against Lake Superior State right around the corner. The Lakers come to Munn Ice Arena on Tuesday night at 7:05 p.m.
For the RedHawks, the loss was the team’s fifth in its last six, dropping their CCHA record to 8-7-1 (11-11-2 overall). It also extends Miami’s winless streak at Munn Arena to seven games.
Next weekend, the team will return home for a two-game set with Bowling Green. Both games start at 7:35 p.m.