EAST LANSING, Mich. — No. 10 Michigan State dominated for the first forty minutes of play and hung in the last five to upend No.2 Miami 3-2 on Friday at Munn Arena.
With the RedHawks clinching the regular season crown on Tuesday, there was talk that they may come out a bit flat in a game that they could afford to lose. But Miami threw the body around with reckless abandonment in attempt to set the tone, knocking Spartan forward Jim McKenzie out of the lineup and putting MSU back a bit on its heels in the first few minutes.
“That really put kind of a pall on the building and on our players,” said MSU coach Rick Comley. “I thought it could have been a major penalty (without criticizing the officials) I thought the game tonight was bordering on nasty.”
“I think (clinching the title) might have had something to do with it, but I know that we were prepared to play, said all of the right things, and did all of the right things,” said Miami coach Rico Blasi.
Despite the injury, MSU regrouped and controlled play for two periods, earning a 3-0 lead early in the third period.
“You never want to see one of your guys go down like that, but we rallied around each other,” said captain Drew Miller. “(Nick) Sucharski filled McKenzie’s spot on the top line with us and scored the game-winner.”
Miami, being the No. 2 team in the country, was not about to lie down. Nine minutes and a pair of Davis-brother goals later, the RedHawks made the score 3-2, the tight one-goal game that most expected.
“We had to take some chances and maybe give up some plays, but we were able to score a couple of goals,” said Blasi.
Comley said, “You can’t play a team with their defensive ability and see a 6-5 game Tonight may have been a little looser than they normally play, but I think we’re very similar teams and we’re very even. Every time we step on the ice we can win, and that’s been proven this year.”
With 33 saves on the evening, Charlie Effinger did his best to keep Miami in the game, stopping the Spartans on several chances to claim 4-0 and 4-1 leads. His strong play allowed the RedHawks to threaten with an extra attacker in the final minute, but the Spartans’ defense was up to the test.
Blasi said, “Charlie knew we were going to take some chances, and he had to come up big, but that’s the name of the game, and when you are down you have to play like that.”
Miami’s best chance to tie the game came on a mini-breakaway, but defenseman Corey Potter caught the rush from behind and dove in to break up the threat.
“He’s a very underrated player,” said Comley. “I can count the number of times on one hand this year when he has had a bad game. He might not score as many points as a tremendously talented offensive player like Andy Greene, but he is a warrior.”
Despite Potter’s stay-at-home mentality, he was also the catalyst on the game winner, slipping a shot in on Effinger from the center point that Nick Sucharski was able to deflect into the net to seal the 3-2 victory.
Tonight’s victory marked the ninth straight MSU hockey game decided by one goal or less. Over those nine games the Spartans own a 5-2-2 record and are now 9-4 in one-goal games this season.
The Spartans notched the first goal of the game on the power play. Tim Crowder picked up a David Booth rebound on the right post and found the back of the net for a 1-0 lead. Bryan Lerg doubled that lead early in the second period, reaping the benefit of a strong individual play by Chris Mueller.
“He came right out of the penalty box and busted through two defensemen with a lot of speed. I just followed up the play and tapped it in,” said Lerg. “He did all the work, so I give him all that credit. After being in a slump, I just want to keep contributing for the team.”
Both teams will meet tomorrow night at Munn to complete the series.
With the MSU win and a Michigan loss, the Spartans now have tenuous, one-point lead over the Wolverines for second place in the CCHA. However, if the two teams finish tied, the Spartans will lose a tiebreaker with Michigan despite winning the season series with their bitter rival. The first CCHA tiebreaker is league wins, not head-to-head record.
With a pair of tallies tonight, the Davises have now combined for 32 percent of all Miami goals this season (32 of 99).
Booth’s assist on the first goal extended a personal and team-best 11-game point streak. The senior and Florida Panthers’ draft pick has a 5-9-14 scoring line over those games.