Detroit, Mich. — Fifth ranked Michigan State and Lake Superior State skated to a 2-2 tie before 6,241 at Joe Louis Arena on Saturday afternoon.
As the saying goes, there are good ties and there are bad ties. For the Lakers, this was certainly a good tie. The point guaranteed the Lakers home ice in the first round of the CCHA playoffs although both their opponent and their seeding (6th-8th) will remain unknown until later this evening.
“Home ice will be really good for us because we’ve been on the bus all weekend for four straight weekends,” said Lakers coach Jim Roque. “If we clinched I don’t really care who we play as long as we are at home.”
“They are so big and strong and better in their own building,” said MSU coach Rick Comley. “That’s as good as I’ve seen Jakaitis and with a good strong team and goaltending like that anything can happen. It’s impossible to predict who is going to win in the first round. Luckily we get to sit back and watch and find out who we are going to play.”
LSSU struck for the game-tying goal just eight seconds after the Spartans grabbed the lead late in the third period. On the ensuing face off, Dan Eves broke in all alone on netminder Jeff Lerg and slipped a backhand into the net to snatch that precious point.
Once again, goaltender Jeff Jakaitis was superb in net for the Lakers, turning aside 45 shots including several point blank chances in overtime. It was the second time in five games that the junior netminder was called upon to make 40 or more saves to preserve a tie.
“Jeff’s ability in net gives us a chance to win on any night,” said Roque. “He’s excellent on the first shot, and the last few games we’ve only given up goals backdoor… if he can see the puck, he’ll make the play.”
“Jakaitis was unbelievable in the third period and in overtime,” said Comley.
After 43:19 of guesswork, the Spartans employed a bit of trickery to finally solve Jakaitis.
David Booth won the draw back to Chris Snavely, who set his fellow defenseman, Daniel Vukovic, up with a one-timer, but Vukovic purposefully fired the puck wide of the net to give Colton Fretter a chance to knock the carom off of the bouncy JLA boards into the net.
“At some of the rinks the boards are really lively and Munn is one of those places,” said captain Drew Miller. “We don’t have set plays, but we know that the bounces would do the same thing today.”
At 12:29, the Spartans used the old “bounce it off the end boards” trick again to score a go-ahead goal to make it 2-1 in the third period. This time Miller knifed the puck into the back of a nearly-empty net.
Both teams decided to keep things tight for the rest of the game and into overtime, but MSU did create quality chances in the extra frame. With the Spartans unsure that they may never get back through the logjam at center ice, they battled and battled to keep the puck in the Lakers’ zone in overtime, generating several quality chances.
Booth had the best chance for an overtime winner on a stick-less Jakaitis, but the Lakers’ netminder was just too good today, using the very tip of his skate blade to deflect the puck.
Next weekend, Lake Superior hosts Western Michigan in a best of three series; Michigan State earned a bye in the opening round of the CCHA tournament.