EAST LANSING, Mich. — A night after blowing Colgate away in the first period, Michigan State seemed to be in control from the opening drop again on Saturday after building a 2-0 first period lead, yet the resilient Raiders rebounded to keep Saturday’s result in question until the final horn sounded in a 2-1 loss to the host Spartans.
“Last night they really took it to us early in the game. We played a better game tonight and that was a result of getting it deep and keeping it in their zone a little longer,” said Colgate head coach Don Vaughan.
After falling behind 2-0, Colgate chipped in a goal to cut the lead in half at 15:14 of the first and held MSU scoreless until the 18:24 mark of the third period, giving the Raiders a fighting chance to force overtime on the road.
“These are big games and it would have been nice to come out of here with at least a little something. I thought we played well enough tonight to come out with at least a tie,” said Vaughan.
But it wasn’t meant to be for Colgate, even though the Vaughan was able to pull goaltender Mark Dekanich for a chance with the extra attacker in the final 1:36.
“You gotta win pretty and you gotta win ugly,” said MSU head coach Rick Comley. “It’s more fun to win pretty, but you have to win those tight games and tonight was one of those games.”
“The most encouraging thing was that we played tight in the third period.”
For the second consecutive night, MSU did most of its scoring in the first twenty minutes. A pair of skill goals by Spartan top liners Tim Kennedy and Justin Abdelkader propelled MSU out of the starting blocks.
Kennedy put MSU on the board at 6:45 on the power play, redirecting a pretty slap pass feed from senior defenseman Daniel Vukovic. Just 2:28 later, the Green and White doubled its lead when junior Abdelkader received a cross-ice pass from classmate Tim Crowder and fired a wrist shot from the bottom of the right circle over Dekanich’s shoulder into the near corner.
Colgate cut the lead to 2-1 heading into the locker room after Tyler Burton stuffed home a rebound from the right post on a two-man advantage with 4:46 left to play in the first frame.
The teams skated through a scoreless second period, but it was not for a lack of action. MSU had its best chance to score at 7:45 when senior Chris Mueller flipped a puck ahead of the pack just out of reach of captain Bryan Lerg. Dekanich raced out to play the puck and wrested it right onto Lerg’s stick, but the keeper made an impressive recovery diving headlong toward the goal to stick the shot aside.
The Spartans, however, maintained the momentum due in large part to goaltender Jeff Lerg’s stoning of Burton’s penalty shot attempt at 11:01 of the middle period. After a tripping call on defenseman Brandon Gentile, Burton, a left-hand shot, skated slight left-to-right and opted for a shot across the grain, but Lerg made an easy blocker save, driving the Munn Ice Arena crowd into a rare frenzy.
“I think he was trying to pick low blocker corner but didn’t hit his spot. When guys come down and shoot it straight on, they usually pick a spot,” said Lerg. “I thought that he would deke because he has good hands and he’s kind of a shifty skater, but once he shot it I just stood my ground and it hit me right in the blocker.”
The save maintained a streak of more than ten years for the Spartans without having allowed a penalty shot goal. The last time was November 8, 1996 when Alaska-Fairbanks’ Cody Botwell beat Chad Alban in a 5-2 UAF win.
Lerg remained relatively untested in the third period, turning aside all five shots he faced, but the junior assistant captain credited his defense for a mid-season effort in the third.
“Five shots against is all you can ask out of your defense,” said Lerg. “We had a couple of turnovers, but the guys were diving, blocking shots and doing whatever it takes to get it out of the zone.”
Lerg finished the game with 23 saves while allowing just one goal for his second win in as many nights.
Not to be outdone, Dekanich rebounded from last night’s early exit with a strong performance, stopping 25 of 27 in the losing effort.
“He was on his game tonight,” said Vaughan of his goaltender. “He made more than a couple big saves for us, and that’s what he can do.”
Both teams will look to carry this strong defensive play and solid goaltending into next weekend, as the Spartans host Northern Michigan while Colgate battles St. Lawrence and either Union or Rensselaer in the Governor’s Cup.