COLUMBUS, Ohio — The Michigan State Spartans broke their six-game winless streak against the Ohio State Buckeyes with a solid 4-2 win in Columbus, but the topic of conversation postgame was the Spartans’ new best friend: the crossbar.
With 2:20 remaining in regulation and trailing 3-1, OSU pulled goaltender David Caruso in favor of an extra skater, a tactic that led to Rod Pelley’s goal at 18:32 to bring the Buckeyes within one.
Then, with 1:20 left, OSU again pulled Caruso and the Buckeyes again pelted Matt Migliaccio, who heard sweet music when Dave Steckel’s shot from close range hit the crossbar with 40 seconds remaining.
“Dave Steckel is a great player. That crossbar was music to a goalie’s ears,” said Migliaccio. “I was doing everything I could do to distract him — waving my arms and everything.”
The Spartans caught another break a few minutes later when senior captain Jim Slater stole the puck from Buckeye defender Nate Guenin in the OSU zone, moved around Guenin’s teammate Doug Andress, and scored the empty-netter to give MSU another two-goal lead. It was Slater’s second tally of the night, his 14th of the season.
“I just wanted to stop them from getting another rush,” said Slater. “Andress put himself out of the play.”
MSU head coach Rick Comley called it a good news-bad news night. “Bad news is that we had a major injury. The good news is that we found a crossbar when we needed it.”
That injury was to MSU goaltender freshman Dominic Vicari, who left the game at 18:55 in the second with a leg injury. Comley said it could be a muscle tear — “something bad” — and that the Spartans will scramble for a backup Saturday.
“We have to find our third goalie back in East Lansing and get him down here, or dress a regular player for tomorrow.”
OSU head coach John Markell said he was very satisfied with his team’s efforts in the loss. “I think we played a pretty good game. You put 44 shots on this team … I think we missed opportunities. It’s unfortunate that it happened the way it did. We certainly created opportunities to score.
“It’s disappointing to lose this game, but you’ve got to give credit where credit is due. I’ll take that [Buckeye] team tonight that we had here any night. A lot of guys played really hard.”
OSU scored first at 12:50 in the opening stanza when Chris Olsgard took a back-door feed from Bryce Anderson with the Buckeyes crashing the net. Olsgard never broke stride as he popped it to the far side of Vicari.
After dominating the first 18 minutes, a defensive breakdown in front of their own net cost the Buckeyes a goal, the lead, and probably the game. At 19:21, Drew Miller tied it up for MSU, picking up the third rebound that OSU failed to clear from the crease. The shot beat a screened Mike Betz to make it a tie game going into the second. OSU outshot MSU 19-8 in the first.
The Spartans increased their lead to 2-1 on Slater’s first goal of the night at 3:42. Slater skated the puck coast to coast and, drawing Betz left and off the ice, put it under the OSU netminder’s legs.
David Booth made it 3-1 at 15:08, a one-timer from the top of the left circle that seemed to catch Betz off guard to hit the twine clean when both teams were skating down a man.
Dave Caruso replaced Betz at the start of the third, and for most of the third period the Spartans shut down any Buckeye chances to get back into the game — until 17:40. For the remaining minutes, OSU played with an intensity that matched their opening play and nearly tied the game.
“We weathered a storm,” said Booth. “The first 10 minutes, they came out pretty strong. It was a good road victory.”
MSU (14-12-1, 10-6-1 CCHA) and OSU (15-11-0, 10-8-0 CCHA) meet again Saturday night at 7:05 for their fourth and final regular-season game of the year. The Buckeyes will try to continue their trend of rebounding after Friday losses, but the Spartans — who have split their last six series, winning Fridays and losing Saturdays — hope that history does not repeat.
“That’s the tale of the season right now,” said Slater of MSU’s Saturday-night fortunes. “We need to stick to the game plan. It hasn’t been working, but we need to stick to it.”