EAST LANSING, Mich. — No. 9 Michigan State got a goal from all three forwards on its top line, two more goals from unlikely sources, and still had to hold on for dear life in a 5-3 victory over St. Lawrence.
“It was one of those games where we could have scored a dozen but we needed an empty-net goal to win,” said MSU coach Rick Comley.
The Spartans could not breathe easily until Chris Mueller slid the puck into an empty net with six seconds left.
“I don’t know about it being an ugly win. We have some preseason predictions, but what have we seen? We got back, in the truest sense, to .500 tonight and I think you have to judge the team on what you’ve seen at this point,” Comley said.
After the Spartans claimed their first two-goal lead early in the third, Saints captain Kyle Rank picked up a loose puck in the right circle and beat goaltender Jeff Lerg to make it a one-goal game with more than 12 minutes left to play.
“We came back pretty well because the power play we had just seconds before (the Rank goal) was our worst of the year, and we’ve had some clunkers. That can be pretty deflating, so we didn’t have time to watch the wind go out of our sails because Rank got a big goal for us,” said SLU coach Joe Marsh.
“Kyle is a guy that can get paid to do this. He is legitimately tough, very smart, skates well, makes good decisions, and he can score some goals. He plays so well defensively and blocks shots and is a great vocal leader … and he’s one of the best amateur golfers in the country.”
Still down by one with :50 left, SLU called timeout, pulled its goaltender, and all bets were off … until the Mueller empty-netter.
The Spartans had plenty of good chances but struggled to convert on opportunities to put the Saints away for good.
“(SLU) worked hard. They forecheck and they pinch. They’re either going to hurt you or you’re going to have a two-on-one … and then you’ve gotta score. We had so many chances in odd-man rushes, breakaways, goalposts,” said Comley.
“The (Justin) Abdelkader (Tim Kennedy and Tim Crowder) line is fun to watch, but they have to start to convert a little bit.”
After stopping the Spartans on three consecutive power plays in the first period, Saints netminder Justin Pesony surrendered a goal on a rather pedestrian shot from the right-wing boards by Jay Sprague.
It was the 6-foot-3 freshman’s first collegiate marker.
Kurt Kivisto scored the eventual game-winner just 3:50 into the third period, putting the Spartans ahead by a 4-2 score. The goal also marked Kivisto’s first collegiate tally.
“It all started with a good cycle,” said Kivisto. “We developed that earlier in the game with Dan Sturges and Brandon Warner. Finally, I had a chance to take the puck to the net and just threw it on net and it happened to slip in five-hole.”
Kivisto, a Brighton, Mich. native, played in just his third game as a Spartan.
“It was so thrilling. I didn’t play much last year. I put in a lot of time and hard work practicing and finally to get an opportunity to help the team get an early-season win was really rewarding,” said Kivisto. “It’s only about a 45-minute drive, so my family comes up just about every weekend. I found out that I’d be in the lineup yesterday and it always feels good when you get to call home and tell your mom and dad that you’re in the lineup.”
In addition to Mueller’s goal, linemates Bryan Lerg and Jim McKenzie also scored for the Spartans.
“We need a couple from them every night to win,” said Comley.
McKenzie’s goal was the score of the night. The power forward charged down the right wing and shed a defender before uncorking a wrist shot high to Pesony’s glove side.
The Spartans and Saints traded two goals apiece in the middle frame. SLU’s Jared Ross struck just 14 seconds into the period on a fluky goal that bounced off of two bodies in front before finding its way to the back of the net.
Lerg reclaimed the Spartans’ lead at the midway point, collecting Jeff Dunne’s blocked shot in front and picking the lower right corner for the sure putaway.
The Saints pulled even once again when Charlie Griffin netted his first of the season. Griffin picked up a loose puck and skated across the goalmouth unchecked, depositing a backhand past Lerg and into the goal.
Lerg finished with 14 saves while Pesony had 25.
St. Lawrence travels to Wayne State Saturday night while MSU hosts Sacred Heart. The puck drops at 7:05 for both contests.