EAST LANSING, Mich. — Different location, different game, different result.
After struggling to score goals against Michigan goaltender Al Montoya in a 3-1 loss on Friday in Ann Arbor, Michigan State beat Montoya four times in the rematch at Munn Arena on Saturday en route to a 5-3 win and a split of the weekend home-and-home series.
Senior defenseman John-Michael Liles scored twice and had an assist and Jim Slater, Corey Potter and Brian Maloney each added a goal as the Spartans (17-11-2, 13-8-1) hung on to fourth place in the CCHA standings with 27 points.
Michigan (21-8-1, 15-6-1) remained in third with 31 points.
“It was fun,” MSU head coach Rick Comley said. “The crowd was fun — they hung around until the end — last night their crowd was fun and the series lived up to its billing.”
With Michigan paying its only visit of the season, the 7,113 fans — the third-largest crowd ever at Munn — who showed up made the arena an unusually lively place and seemed to inspire the home team to a stark turnaround from the previous night.
The Spartans have relied on offense from defensemen all season, so it was fitting that that would be true Saturday.
Liles, who leads the Spartans with 34 points, opened the scoring 48 seconds into the second period on a power play when he fired a shot from the point through traffic and past Montoya for a 1-0 MSU lead.
Liles struck again 1:47 later when he got loose in front of the Michigan goal and slipped a shot underneath Montoya’s glove for a 2-0 MSU lead.
After Michigan sophomore forward Dwight Helminen scored to cut the MSU lead to 2-1 with 12:15 left in the second, Liles helped MSU regain its two-goal lead when his point shot was tipped in by Slater with 17:40 left in the game.
“They took me away pretty well last night and I said to myself, ‘If I get more chances, get it on net and eventually one will slip through,’” Liles said.
The Spartans seemed to put the game on ice when Potter fired a shot from the point that eluded Montoya for his third goal of the year and a 4-1 MSU lead with 11:33 left in the game.
But on came the Wolverines.
Freshman sensation and Michigan leading scorer Jeff Tambellini scored two goals in a span of 30 seconds — the first on a power play — as he personally cut the lead to 4-3 and sent the MSU faithful into nail-biting mode.
Tambellini had four goals in the series and now leads the Wolverines with 22 goals.
With 1:47 left, Michigan head coach Red Berenson pulled Montoya with the faceoff in the Spartan zone, a decision that backfired after the Spartans won the draw and saw Maloney make it 5-3 on an empty-net goal with 1:37 remaining.
Berenson, who said that he pulled Montoya so early basically because his best offensive players were rested, said it wouldn’t have mattered if his team could have contained Liles and Slater.
“We knew this weekend that if they’re best players were leading their team, we’d be in trouble and that’s what we saw tonight.”
Berenson also praised the home-and-home format, saying it gave fans on both campuses a chance to see compelling hockey, and admitted it was strange coaching a game at Munn without former MSU head coach Ron Mason on the opposite bench.
“I know Ron wore his green jacket whenever we played and I guess Rick finally wore it tonight,” he said.
The Spartans and Wolverines will meet at least twice more this season — on Feb. 28 and in Ann Arbor and on Mar. 1 at Joe Louis Arena.