EAST LANSING, Mich. — It’s hard to attach the “must-win” moniker to a game in October, but Friday’s game against UNO was as close as it gets for Michigan State. After getting swept at Northern Michigan last weekend, Michigan State came back to Munn Arena with a chip on its shoulder and something to prove against the upstart Mavs.
Nebraska-Omaha, on goalie Chris Holt’s 39-save performance, fought back to make it a one-goal game early in the third period, but MSU pulled away to win 5-2.
“We knew that we were playing a team that was going to come out and play with a tremendous amount of fire and enthusiasm. They took it to us real well in the first period and luckily Chris Holt was pretty solid or it could have been worse,” said UNO coach Mike Kemp.
The Spartans didn’t waste any time, taking a 3-0 lead in a first period that saw MSU outshoot UNO 18-3.
“They set the tone, set the tempo, and got it done,” said Kemp.
With UNO pressing, Kevin Estrada notched the all-important goal to stem the tide at 7:28 in the third. Senior forward Ash Goldie found Estrada open at the far post coming off a strong cycle with assistant captain Jared Nightingale. Estrada flipped the puck over Holt’s shoulder and under the crossbar to give State some breathing room.
Later in the third, Mike Lalonde added his first goal of the year on the power play to seal the deal for the Spartans. A.J. Thelen settled the puck at the point, drew a defender and slid the puck to Jim Slater at the goal line. He found Lalonde on the doorstep for an easy tap-in.
“They got two good bounce goals and our kids didn’t panic; they kept going,” said MSU coach Rick Comley. “Sometimes it’s hard when you get up three to keep building.”
UNO started a second-period comeback in hopes of negating a severe territorial advantage, but the Mavs were only able to register six shots on goal for the period and just 19 in the game.
Yet, UNO was able to get on the scoreboard in the second when goaltender Matt Migliaccio confused his holidays and gift-wrapped a leave for Bryan Marshall, who calmly flipped the puck into an empty net. The goal marked the first time the Mavs had scored against Michigan State since January of 2003.
UNO drew to 3-2 margin on another strange bounce. Dan Hacker flung a cross-ice pass that caught the goalie’s stick and went into the net to make it a one-goal game.
Despite a couple soft goals, Migliaccio finished with 17 saves and a much-needed win.
Staying out of the penalty box was one of the reasons Michigan State was able to storm back in the third. The Spartans only gave UNO 22 seconds on the power play for the entire game, a rarity given the new rules interpretation.
“Tonight we had a more experienced official and both teams adjusted,” said Comley. “Now it’s getting to the point where players on the bench are telling each other not to hook.”
“We’ve seen more than 20 seconds on the power play in our games this year, but we didn’t do anything tonight to earn power plays,” said Kemp.
Michigan State scored two power-play goals on six opportunities and scored a third goal just as the man-advantage expired.
Both teams will meet again at 7 p.m. on Saturday at Munn Arena for the second game of a weekend series.