EAST LANSING, Mich. — No. 13 Michigan State continued its skid into the close of the regular season, dropping a 2-1 decision to Bowling Green on Saturday.
“We didn’t come out with any urgency,” said senior captain Chris Lawrence. “We had no desperation. We played like the game didn’t mean anything to us, and we’re probably going to take a big hit from it. It could end up really biting us in the rear end.”
The Falcons’ Jonathan Matsumoto tallied the game-winner at the 11:13 mark of the final frame. After MSU controlled play in the offensive zone, BGSU’s top line of Matsumoto, Derek Whitmore, and Tomas Petruska bolted down the ice on three-on-one. Skating on the right wing, Petruska centered to Matsumoto for an easy tap in and the 2-1 final score.
We’ve been in nine straight games either tied or down a goal headed into the third period, and until tonight we just haven’t been able to make the key play,” said coach Scott Paluch. “Tonight we got that pretty offensive play from Tomas and Matsumoto, but we also got some great blocked shots on the defensive end, and Jimmy Spratt was outstanding.”
The Spartans mounted a comeback bid, earning a short power play chance when BGSU’s Mike Nesdill was whistled for interference at 16:44 in the final frame, but they simply could not find a way to get the puck into the net.
Junior forward Jim McKenzie had the best chance to tie the game for MSU, as he powered across the crease and got goaltender Jimmy Spratt to make the first move, but his backhand sailed just over the top of the net, nicking the crossbar on its way.
“I thought we had a lot guys play hard, but our very good players weren’t good players. Every team has four or five games that have to be good players every night to win, and ours simply didn’t come to play tonight. I thought Jim McKenzie was excellent though,” said MSU coach Rick Comley.
Michigan State’s chances of finding a goal late in the third period were seriously diminished, however, when defenseman Jeff Dunne was whistled for a five-minute major for kneeing with just 7:03 remaining.
“The referee (Steve McInchak) explained to me that kneeing is a mandatory five-minute penalty when an injury occurs,” said Comley. “I always thought that there had to be intent to injure (and in this play there wasn’t). Their kid cut to the middle at the last second before the contact.”
Lawrence said, “The five-minute major didn’t lose us the game. We didn’t play hard, we didn’t have enough grit. We’re trying to play too pretty, and we haven’t learned our lesson yet.”
After a 12-1-2 streak dating back to December, the Spartans have stumbled their way to the finish line with a 1-4 record in the last five games. Although MSU believed this was a very winnable section of the schedule, its inability to score goals and lack of depth has proven near insurmountable.
“I’ve known all along that we have some good points and some deficiencies, but right now the deficiencies are out shadowing the good points,” said Comley. “The later a game goes, the more our inability scores forces our team play tight.”
Tonight’s loss did not mean much to the Spartans in terms of CCHA playoff positioning, as they locked up a first-round bye with a win last night, but it could spell NCAA Tournament disaster as BGSU has one of the worst RPI rankings in the nation.
“Kids are so hard to understand. I wish I had a crystal ball to see what goes on inside their heads sometimes. One thing is for sure though: now I feel like we’ll have to win the CCHA Tournament to make the national tournament,” said Comley.
In complete contrast, the Falcons have played their best hockey of the season coming down the stretch, knocking off both Michigan and Michigan State in the last few weeks of the season to gain some much-needed confidence.
“We knew after last night that we weren’t going to be playing at home anymore, so to come out here and win in a building like this does a lot for our guys,” said Paluch. “This was a playoff type of game for us, and we treated it like that because we’re going to need to win on the road or our season is done.”
After a scoreless first period, MSU’s Jeff Dunne opened the scoring just 33 seconds into the middle stanza, snapping a wrist shot from the right point that fluttered high through a screen and beat Sprat.
The goal appeared to give the Spartans a lift after a flat opening period, but Whitmore answered just over six minutes later. With MSU controlling the play, the junior struck for his team best 17th goal of the season on a tremendous individual effort.
Whitmore stick-handled through defenseman Daniel Vukovic’s legs and wired a wrist shot high over Jeff Lerg’s glove hand from the high slot to even the score at 1-1.
In the upcoming week, Michigan State will enjoy a first-round bye in the CCHA playoffs before hosting a second round matchup the weekend of March 9. Bowling Green will bring its new-found confidence on the road, facing either Western Michigan or Nebraska-Omaha.