EAST LANSING, Mich. — Michigan State combined strong special-teams play with a Jim McKenzie hat trick en route to a 6-3 win over seventh-ranked Ohio State Friday night.
Coming into the game, both teams expected a physical game with plenty of special teams, but the Buckeyes were the favorites given their league-best power play and penalty kill.
“I had a feeling 5-on-5 that we matched up really well with this team; it was just going to be a question of special teams and goaltending,” said MSU coach Rick Comley. “Dom Vicari was really good in net and our power play got us a couple of goals early. We killed a couple key penalties and built a nice lead that we didn’t give up.”
Ohio State, the nation’s most-penalized team, finally ran into a game where its penalty minutes created an insurmountable deficit.
“They beat us the way we usually beat teams, with specialty teams,” said Ohio State coach John Markell. “Three power-play goals and a shorthanded goal with the goalie pulled and that’s the game. We felt we were outcompeted; it just meant more to them. You saw a desperate hockey team play a very good hockey game tonight.”
Michigan State may have been the least likely team to place the Buckeyes in such a predicament considering that the Spartans had previously gone scoreless in their last 13 attempts with the man advantage and haven’t scored two power-play goals in a game since January 7.
“They take penalties and create penalties and that creates a really emotional game,” said Comley. “There were 15 power plays tonight and we’d rather not see that many power plays, but we thought we could hurt them a little [on the power play]. Their numbers are really good on the penalty kill, but they do some things that maybe suit what we do on the power play so I thought we could have some success.
Equally impressive, MSU was able to keep the league’s best power play at bay in a game full of opportunities with the man advantage. The Spartans held OSU scoreless through nearly 50 minutes and kept the Buckeyes to two power-play goals on seven chances.
Michigan State solidified its stronghold on the game after killing a 5-on-3 to end the second period with the Buckeyes buzzing.
“The 5-on-3 was the key of the game; the crowd was into it and they built momentum off of it. It’s usually been a strength for us, but we needed a goal there to put them back on their heels,” said Markell. “The shots were right in on Vicari and I thought we did a good job moving the puck around and had good opportunities, but it’s like anything else — when you get good goaltending, that’s what kills a 5-on-3.”
McKenzie, who netted the game-tying goal against Michigan just a few games back, is beginning to emerge as a young player MSU can count on to produce.
Comley said, “You’ve seen it since Christmas, I think. We saw it early in the fall and then we didn’t see any [scoring touch], but the emergence of our young players is really helping us to keep our head above water. You have a freshman tonight get three big-time goals.”
McKenzie scored once in each period and twice on the power play to lead the Spartans.
Special teams dominated the first period, with Michigan State going 1-for-3 on the man advantage while holding the Buckeyes scoreless in two opportunities. McKenzie netted the lone goal for the Spartans, sealing off a defender — with a post-up move that looked more like something from MSU basketball coach Tom Izzo than Comley — and flipping the puck to the top shelf.
It was more of the same for the Spartans in the second, as they held Ohio State scoreless while adding another power-play goal from McKenzie as well as a 4-on-4 goal from Ethan Graham.
Graham added an assist to his goal, and received credit for his strong positional play on defense.
“I thought Ethan Graham is playing outstanding. He’s plus-17 on the year coming into the game and not getting a lot of credit,” said Comley.
To the Buckeyes’ credit, they refused to go down without a fight, coming back from a 4-0 deficit to make it 5-3 with three minutes left to play before Jim Slater ripped a shot from center ice into an empty net.
MSU netminder Dom Vicari continued his strong play of late, stopping 34 of 37 shots while his Buckeye counterparts, Dave Caruso and Ian Keserich, combined to make 36 saves on 42 Spartan attempts
Ohio State will look to capitalize on any momentum it created at the end of the game Saturday night, ready to split with the Spartans. State will seek the much-needed sweep to keep pace in the CCHA and NCAA tournament races.