ANN ARBOR, Mich. — In a game each team desperately needed to win, it looked like neither Michigan nor Michigan State would come away with the coveted two points.
Both teams refused to give an inch as they played to a 0-0 draw through most of the game. But with 1:27 left to play, Michigan junior Eric Nystrom broke the tie with a clean wrister. Freshman T.J. Hensick added an empty-netter to give the Wolverines the 2-0 victory.
Nystrom, who flicked in the game-winner after Michigan won a faceoff in the left circle, was mobbed by his linemates as the Yost Arena crowd roared. It was Nystrom’s fourth goal of the season, but his first since Oct. 26. After going goalless in seven games, Nystrom was anxious to find the net.
He said he had been clutching his stick tightly, and finally scoring allowed him to relax.
Michigan State goaltender Dominic Vicari, meanwhile, didn’t get a good look at Nystrom’s shot.
“I knew that we lost the draw clean, and I just tried to make myself big and try to go down and cover the lower part — that’s what you’re taught to do — and it went upstairs,” Vicari said. “I had no idea where it went; I just knew it went in over my shoulder somewhere.”
Both teams came into the weekend trying to bounce back from being swept by Minnesota and Wisconsin in last weekend’s College Hockey Showcase. Michigan (10-5-0 overall, 6-3-0 CCHA) had lost three straight and four of its last six. Coach Red Berenson liked that Friday’s feisty game between the two rivals came down to the final period, and he said he thought his team handled the pressure of a close game well.
“I liked the feeling on our bench,” Berenson said. “I thought there was a lot of enthusiasm, and the momentum in the third period was strong. The game was on the line and we played well. That’s a good feeling.”
The game got off to a slow start, as neither team was able to consistently generate an attack. The Wolverines thought they had taken the lead near the end of the first period when the puck dropped behind Vicari, but the officials ruled that Eric Werner batted in the puck while his stick was above the crossbar.
The intensity picked up as the game progressed. Michigan goaltender Al Montoya had to make a couple big saves in the second period to keep Michigan State off the board. And in the beginning of the third, with Michigan having its best offensive shift to that point, Vicari thwarted several chances.
But Nystrom was able to break through at the end of the period, after Dwight Helminen won the draw. Sophomore Brandon Kaleniecki earned the sole assist on Hensick’s empty-net goal at 19:59.
Both goaltenders faced a lot of screen shots and had to peer through traffic to find the puck. Montoya made 23 saves on the way to his third shutout of the season. Vicari, a freshman experiencing the hostility of Yost for the first time, stopped 36 shots.
The Spartans (8-8-1, 6-4-1) now have five losses in their last seven games and have dropped three straight. But coach Rick Comley said he was pleased with his team’s effort and competitiveness Friday, and he said he expected the Spartans to recover from the deflating loss in time for Saturday night’s rematch in East Lansing.
“There’s absolutely nothing wrong with our hockey team, other than we’re young and we’re deficient in a few areas,” Comley said. “We just have to find a way to win with what we have, and that takes time.”
Michigan will play Saturday’s game without forward David Moss, who went down with a high ankle sprain in the second period. He was unable to put any pressure on his right leg as he left the ice.