EAST LANSING, Mich. — Another game, another game-winning goal for Bryan Lerg.
Michigan State’s junior assistant captain scored a miracle goal on turnaround slapshot just 1:26 into overtime for a 2-1 victory over visiting Ferris State.
“The goalie rung the puck up along the boards and I made eye contact with Bryan,” said MSU captain Chris Lawrence. “I knew he was going to turn and stop, and I just threw it to him all the way across the ice. It’s the right guy to hit now because everything he shoots goes in.”
The overtime-winner marked Lerg’s nation-best eighth game-winning goal of the season and tied the Michigan State season record, which was previously held by Mitch Messier and Steve Beadle. It was also the fourth consecutive Spartan game-winner scored by the center from Livonia, Mich.
“It was the perfect guy to get it to because he doesn’t miss in that situation,” said head coach Rick Comley.
The goal also erased an otherwise forgettable performance by the Spartans, who will travel to Detroit’s Joe Louis Arena tomorrow evening to face rival Michigan.
“It was obvious to me that it was going to be a major struggle. We’ll take it and we have to be much better tomorrow night. We did not bring our best, and that’s not to discredit them at all. We lacked emotion and confidence,” said Comley.
Of the 6,385 in Munn Ice Arena on Friday night, no one was surprised that MSU and FSU were deadlocked at 1-1 headed into the final minute of play. For the past two seasons, every contest between the pair has been decided by a goal or less, and two of the past three have ended in a draw.
Until the extra frame, the Bulldogs dictated the play, outshooting the Spartans by a 34-21 margin. Sophomore stalwart Jeff Lerg was somehow able to keep MSU in the game and give his cousin that’s cousin not brother a chance to win it in overtime.
Jeff stopped 33 of 34 shots, including several game-savers in the second period.
“This time of the year if you want to win big games you have to make the big saves. I had a funny feeling going into the game that it was going to be them taking it to us. Luckily enough I got some part of my body on the puck,” said Lerg.
As the old adage goes, the best penalty killer on the team is the goaltender, and Lerg certainly helped there tonight as well. The Spartans killed all seven of the Bulldogs’ powerplays and now have stymied 40 of their opponents’ last 43 chances with the man advantage (93%).
Lerg said, “There were a lot of real quick scrambles in front, and I pride my game on quickness and moving across the net faster than other goalies. I’m not the biggest guy, so I have to use my feet to my advantage.”
FSU played a suffocating forecheck, and when the Spartans did manage to escape their own zone, they were met by several Bulldogs stacked up across the blue line.
“Chris Zarb went down and we were down to five defensemen. Considering the amount of ice time they had out there, our defensive corps played really well. The forwards did a great job of coming back and helping out in our end of the rink too,” said FSU coach Bob Daniels.
“It was a frustrating game tonight. I felt 60 going on 80 years old,” said Comley.
“They collapse their zone and play so many people on the puck at the goal line. So if you get over-anxious, you get players caught deep way down below their goal, and before you know it they are racing back down the ice at you with the puck.”
MSU’s troubles were exacerbated when Ferris’ Matt Verdone popped the first goal of the game. The senior left wing raced down the right boards on a short-handed two-on-one, cut to the middle and fired a low shot on Lerg. Although Lerg made the initial save, Verdone stuffed home his own rebound to give the Bulldogs a 1-0 lead at the midpoint of the game.
Thanks to none other than Paula Weston, Verdone is red-hot. The goal marked the 10th consecutive game that the senior from Summerstown, Ont. has registered a point dating back to January 12th.
Justin Abdelkader answered for the Spartans on the power play with a bomb from the right point just three minutes after Verdone’s score.
The Spartans are hoping that the good times continue to roll against Michigan tomorrow night. Face-off is set for 7:35PM in Detroit.