COLUMBUS, Ohio — It was a 4-3 Michigan State win over Ohio State, but the Spartans took the scenic route to victory.
“We don’t always win pretty,” said MSU head coach Rick Comley. “We have to work really hard to win.”
On goals by Justin Abdelkader and Tim Kennedy, the Spartans led 2-0 before the game was three minutes old, but OSU goaltender Dave Caruso and the rest of the Buckeyes settled down enough to take a 3-2 lead by midway through the second. David Booth’s late second-period goal knotted the game going into the third, and Bryan Lerg found the net at 6:05 in the final stanza to win the game.
“When you get up two-nothing before you can blink, everybody thinks you’re in,” said Comley. “But [Caruso] made a couple of tremendous saves to keep it two. To come down here and get a win, we’ll go home very happy, believe me.”
“The first five minutes … from the goalie on out, we were not prepared to start that game,” said OSU head coach John Markell. “We were just totally asleep. You can’t do that against a team that’s hot like Michigan State. We did not look like a team that was prepared to play.”
It was Abdelkader who initiated the play that led to his own goal, picking Buckeye Tom Fritsche clean in the neutral zone and sending the puck across the ice to the right boards, where Tim Crowder found it on the bounce. Crowder fired and Caruso kicked it aside — and right back to Abdelkader, who shot into the wide-open left side of the net for the 1-0 lead at 2:07.
Fifteen seconds later, Kennedy made it 2-0 when he found a sliver of space between Caruso and the left post. Kennedy won the faceoff at center ice and passed back to Jared Nightingale, and Nightingale threw the puck down the right boards and back behind the net where Abdelkader found it in the left corner. The puck squibbed to Kennedy, and Kennedy scored at 2:22.
Two minutes and two near-misses later — the Spartans also hit the pipes twice within the first five minutes of play — and the Buckeyes finally decided to play some hockey, resulting in persistent cycling down low on the power play and Matt Waddell’s goal from the top of the slot to make it 2-1 at 4:50.
“Obviously, they bump up two-nothing right away…and now you’re spinning your wheels,” said Markell. “You’re not moving your feet, you’re not closing gaps, you’re not doing anything right. Quite frankly, we were lucky to get out of that period just being down two to one.”
OSU went on to score two more goals for the brief 3-2 lead, Dave Barton’s opportune goal while MSU goaltender Jeff Lerg was tangled with Nick Biondo at 2:26 and Andrew Schembri’s shot from the left circle just after a faceoff at 12:48, but Booth had the equalizer at 15:05 — a gorgeous one-timer from the right side of the crease on Jim McKenzie’s quick cross-slot feed — and the game was tied 3-3 at the end of two.
“I thought we did a good job coming back,” said Markell. “We created enough opportunities for ourselves. From what I hear, the net was off.”
Markell was referring to Lerg’s game-winning goal, scored as OSU’s net was dislodged from its moorings, on first glance by a Buckeye defender. There is no video review in Value City Arena, and after a brief consultation, the on-ice officials ruled the goal valid.
“That was the difference in the game,” said Markell, “a controversial goal.”
The goal was the 11th of the season for Lerg, who has struggled offensively this season. “I think it’s been hard for him a little bit,” said Comley, “but I thought he made some great passes tonight, to McKenzie and [Colton] Fretter. That was kind of one of those underrated plays, where he followed his pass to Fretter and had the open net to put it in.
“We need him, obviously. That kind of looked like he was earlier [in the season], and then he kind of went a little bit quiet on us. I keep hoping that we’re going to…get it going offensively, which we have not done yet. I think we have the capability of doing that.”
The Spartans were 0-for-6 on the power play, the Buckeyes 1-for-6. Jeff Lerg had 31 saves to Caruso’s 30. The shots in the game were even, 34 apiece.
Michigan State (17-10-7, 11-7-6 CCHA) returns to East Lansing for a bye week, and returns to action at home against Miami Feb.17-18. Immediately after the game, the Buckeyes (14-13-4, 10-11-2 CCHA) boarded a bus and headed to the airport for a charter flight to Green Bay, Wisc., where they’ll play Wisconsin in Saturday’s Frozen Tundra Classic in Lambeau Field.