BOWLING GREEN, Ohio — Backed by a pair of third period goals, the Michigan State Spartans secured a first-round bye in the playoffs tonight by virtue of a 5-3 victory over the Bowling Green Falcons at the BG Ice Arena.
With the win, the Spartans (19-11-3 overall, 15-9-3 in the CCHA) ended their recent winless skid at four games and kept their hopes alive for an at-large NCAA playoff berth.
Michigan State got markers from senior defenseman Chris Snavely and right winger Jim McKenzie in the final period to break a 3-3 deadlock and secure the win.
While the win over the 12th place Falcons wasn’t easy, it was much needed from Michigan State head coach Rick Comley’s point of view.
“Obviously, we’re in the middle of a slide,” said Comley. “You give up a goal less than a minute into the game and you’re going, ‘oh, boy.’ But, I thought we did a lot of good things. Bowling Green played hard. [BG goaltender Jimmy] Spratt made a lot of saves. But, we did some things better. And the number one thing we did better was winning.”
Despite securing the first-round playoff bye, Comley said that his troops would not be able to rest tomorrow night, as his team still has its NCAA playoff chances to consider.
“Actually, we’re in such trouble, we just can’t. Every game is big and because of where Bowling Green is, a loss would really knock us out of it. It’s probably our most important game of the year, tomorrow night.”
Bowling Green coach Scott Paluch was pleased with his team’s performance in the first two periods of the game, but felt the third period got away from his club a problem that has plagued his team in recent weeks.
“The game had a lot of momentum swings, a lot of ebb and flow,” remarked Paluch. “I thought we came out and really controlled the play. They took advantage of a mistake and they take over the play. We get it back, but ultimately, again, it was a familiar theme there. We were right there in the third period, but they made the plays and stole the momentum and were able to finish off the game.”
“We had a real good effort out of our guys, but we didn’t seize momentum, and we didn’t maintain momentum. I give credit to Michigan State. They made plays at key times that took momentum away from us when I thought we had it going at times.
Over the last four weeks, the Falcons have been within one goal of their opponent going into the final period in their last seven games. However, BG is just 1-6-1 in those contests, the lone win coming two weeks ago against Michigan.
Bowling Green jumped out in front just 49 seconds into the game. Derek Whitmore picked up a re-directed puck out front and jammed it through the legs of Jeff Lerg for his 15th goal of the year. Jonathan Matsumoto and Russ Sinkewich assisted.
The Spartans would take the lead with a pair of goals before the period would come to a close. Justin Abdelkader and Chris Mueller both scored from the left side of the crease through traffic to give the Spartans the edge after 20 minutes of play.
The score oscillated again early in the second stanza as Whitmore and John Mazzei would each find the back of the net from just outside the crease.
Trailing 3-2, Michigan State would quickly tie the score again, lighting the lamp just 26 seconds after the Mazzei goal. Bryan Lerg notched his 21st goal of the year off Jimmy Spratt rebound to even up the score.
Chris Snavely gave his team the lead for good at 4:10 of the final period. The senior defenseman scored his 1st goal of the year, one-timing a shot through the 5-hole of Jimmy Spratt.
The Spartans iced the game late in the period with a power play goal. The Falcons turned the puck over to Jim McKenzie off the draw at the blue line. McKenzie skated down the right side, then wristed a shot past Spratt, beating him stick side for the 5-3 lead.
The Spartans finished the night 1 for 6 on the power play, while the Falcons were blanked in five tries.
Jeff Lerg stopped 22 of the 25 shots he faced on the night, while Spratt turned aside 23 of 28 shots.
The two teams will end their regular season tomorrow night as they square off against each other in East Lansing.