EAST LANSING, Mich. — After dropping the first game of a home-and-home series to Western Michigan, Michigan State faced its perhaps first must-win situation of the year Saturday night.
The Spartans came out slow, but answered the challenge, besting the Broncos 3-1 in a defensive battle on Saturday.
“It was a very, very important game,” said MSU coach Rick Comley. “We are at that point of no return and either we put something together and win these next three home games or we’ll have trouble finishing in the top half of the league.
“When you can win a pressure game, it’s always a good thing. We’ve played a lot of tight games and a lot of good games, but this is the first time that we’ve played like there’s no tomorrow,” added Comley. “Believe it or not, it’s only the second time of the year that we’ve won when haven’t scored first,” said Comley. “Until the empty-net goal I was worried; it’s just been that type of year.”
MSU came away with the eventual game-winning goal early in the second period. Senior Mike Lalonde put the Spartans ahead for good, stuffing the puck short side on Bronco goaltender Daniel Bellissimo. He was the beneficiary of a nifty passing play by Tommy Goebel, who drove the net and dished the puck to Lalonde at the goal line.
“We got the jump on them and had a chance to make it 2-0, but MSU came out and were able to respond to take the lead,” said Bronco coach Jim Culhane.
After grabbing the lead, the Spartans held on for dear life through the third, fighting off the league’s best power play with a strong effort by Dominic Vicari.
“I thought we dominated play in that third period. We played a lot of minutes in their zone and had chances, but Vicari was there to make the saves,” said Culhane.
Although it wasn’t a 40-save effort, Vicari came up time and time again when he was called, stopping 21 of 22 shots to aid the Spartan cause.
“He’s been solid. He makes good saves and big saves when he has to. He’s turning into a real big leader for us as a sophomore,” said Comley.
With five minutes left in the game, MSU freshman Chris Mueller drew a penalty driving the puck hard to the net. The Spartans couldn’t get much going on the man advantage, but were able to drain two critical minutes off of the clock while clinging to a one-goal advantage. Captain Jim Slater was able to seal the deal, sliding the puck into an empty net shortly after the power play expired.
Western’s best chance to even the game came with less than 30 seconds to play in the second period. Sophomore defenseman Ryan Mahrle knifed through the State defense and beat Vicari high, but his wrister clanked off the crossbar, leaving the score 2-1 headed into the third period.
The teams traded goals in the opening period with Western striking first. The Broncos dumped the puck deep in the right corner with the puck coming out to Mike Erickson, who fired a heavy shot from the point. Vicari was able to stretch out to get a pad on it, but left a juicy rebound on the doorstep. Paul Szcechura pounced on the loose puck and flipped an easy backhander into the empty net, scoring his second goal in as many games.
The Spartans answered late in the period on another strong individual effort from Colton Fretter. The junior forward wheeled through the slot on the backhand and was able to outlast Bellissimo, finding daylight high over the goalie’s shoulder for his 14th goal of the season.
With the hard-fought win, MSU kept a 16-game home winning streak intact against WMU that dates back to 1993.