EAST LANSING, Mich. — Ohio State got outstanding play from its special teams and a strong effort in net from freshman Joe Palmer to claim a 4-1 victory at No. 12 Michigan State on Saturday.
“That was our best game of the year and it was under the most duress,” said OSU coach John Markell. “Five-on-five most teams in this league can play, but special teams are where it’s at. We got the penalty kill going and we got shorthanded goals and power play goals. It was our turn tonight.”
All four Buckeye goals came in specialty situations, but back-to-back shorthanded goals broke the Spartans’ backs.
“It’s pretty tough to win a game when you give up two shorthanded goals on the same penalty, especially when your power play isn’t scoring goals.” said MSU captain Chris Lawrence.
With the clock winding down on the first period, MSU blueliner Tyler Howells fired a shot into Kenny Bernard’s shins, sending the Buckeyes on an odd-man rush down the ice. Bernard drew the lone Spartan defender and slid a pass to a trailing Domenic Maiani for a 1-0 lead with just 11 seconds left in the period.
“It started out in the same scenario as last night — just a couple seconds off — and you want to say that when you lose you learn lesson and I thought we did that tonight,” said Markell.
“I didn’t like our emotion in the first,” said Comley. “In terms of comparing the period to last night when we got one shot on goal, I guess we played better but I didn’t like the way we came out and our energy.”
After getting a 15-minute breather during the intermission, the relentless Buckeye penalty kill struck again just 42 seconds into the period. This time, Matt Waddell stripped a defender at the Bucks’ offensive blue line and hit Bryce Anderson, who beat netminder Jeff Lerg from the bottom of the left circle.
“The second goal was really deflating because we just finally had a chance to go into the locker room and get our heads on straight,” said Lawrence. “We were never really able to respond after that.”
“We play a high-pressure penalty kill. We want to take the time and space away when it’s time. When you add in good goaltending, you’ve got yourself a good PK,” said Markell.
Allowing goals in the first and last minute is an immediate worry for the Spartans, who at that point surrendered their last five goals against in the first or last minute of a period (both goals at Wisconsin, Friday night’s score, and the first two goals Saturday). It was also the fourth consecutive game that MSU has allowed its opponents to score in such a fashion.
With the pair of shorties, the Buckeyes not only overpowered the Spartans but now also lead the nation in shorthanded goals with eight through 14 games.
OSU added a power-play goal on Matt McIlvane’s redirection of a Tyson Strachan shot from the point midway through the second period for a 3-0 lead. Desperate to turn the tides, Comley called timeout following the goal and pulled Lerg in favor of freshman keeper Bobby Jarosz.
“Nothing was happening and we were down three. Sometimes it’s the only move you have left,” said Comley.
The Spartans responded in terms of energy level, but could not beat Palmer, save for a goal on a five-minute power play in the third period. The freshman was particularly strong in net for OSU, stopping a career-high 39 shots.
In a first-period play that spoke volumes about just how frustrating the night would be for Michigan State, Palmer stopped Tim Crowder on a two-on-none break with linemate Tim Kennedy.
“That’s the kind of game-changing play that he can make. We’ve seen it before and he did it again tonight. It’s certainly a momentum-buster and a motivator depending upon which bench you’re on,” said Markell.
Palmer went on to stymie the Spartans, who mounted a mild comeback in the third period due in large part to a major penalty and game misconduct on Tyler Strachan but could not get any closer than two goals down to the Buckeyes.
Chris Mueller took a double-minor that short-circuited any late hope for the Spartans, resulting in a power play goal for Andrew Schembri. The diminutive senior sped down the right hand side on an odd-man rush and used his own man as a decoy, firing a wrister high glove-side for the exclamation point.
Although he did not score a point in the series, Tommy Goebel got to hear his name announced over the Munn Ice Arena public address system again, committing a hitting after the whistle penalty late in the third period. A good-humored Goebel shook the attendant’s hand as he sat down in the box.
Ohio State will look to capitalize on its momentum as it faces off against intrastate rival No. 4 Miami in a home-and-home series. Michigan State and an equally frustrated No. 20 Northern Michigan squad, fresh off a sweep at the hands of Lake Superior, will play a pair on the big sheet in Marquette.