COLUMBUS, Ohio — Nick Sucharski’s second-period goal knocked the life out of Ohio State, and Jeff Lerg’s third-period save on a Buckeyes’ breakaway prevented resurrection as No. 7 Michigan State beat Ohio State, 4-1, in Columbus.
“I thought it was a pretty good game,” said MSU coach Rick Comley. “I thought a key point in the hockey game was Jeff Lerg’s save at 3-1. It was a tremendous, tremendous save that doesn’t shock us but excites us. That sealed the win, obviously.”
Down by a goal going into the third, the Buckeyes came out with determination to begin the final stanza, dominating play for the first four minutes until the Spartans transitioned the puck into the OSU zone and scored, stifling the Bucks for the remainder of the period.
“The third goal was the killer,” said Buckeyes’ coach John Markell. “The first…minutes [of the second] I thought we were playing very well, and that’s what I expected our team to play like, and they made it 3-1 and for 10 minutes we went into a lull again. It wasn’t the whole game, but it was still a lull.
“We’ve just got to regroup, do a few things better. We’ve got to play better tomorrow night and try to get some points out of this weekend. That’s going to be a tough task.”
Bryan Lerg, Tim Crowder, Sucharski and Justin Abdelkader had the goals for Michigan State, and Jeff Lerg made 27 saves on 28 shots. Former Spartan Tommy Goebel had OSU’s lone tally; Joseph Palmer stopped 27-of-30 shots he faced in the contest.
MSU led 2-1 after the first on Lerg’s early power-play goal and Crowder’s even-strength marker. On Lerg’s goal, Crowder skated the puck in and around a Buckeyes’ defender and backhanded it at Palmer, who blocked the shot. Lerg, trailing, came in, picked up the rebound, and shot past Palmer into the open left side of the net at 2:06 for the 1-0 lead.
Crowder scored himself at 10:46, another one-timer from a rebound left of the net. Jeffe Dunne initiated the play when he kept the puck in the OSU zone at the left point and fired diagonally across the crease to Matt Schepke in the right circle. Palmer stopped Schepke’s initial shot and Crowder took advantage of the open left side of the net to make it a 2-0 game.
Goebel cut the MSU lead in half when he scooted around behind the Michigan State net to capitalize on Jason DeSantis’s shot from the right circle at 15:44 in the first.
After OSU’s initial push in the second, Sucharski scored at 4:09 when he coaxed the puck around a Buckeye defender and backhanded past Palmer near the right post. It was Sucharski’s third goal in three games, the longest goal-scoring streak of the junior’s career.
“I’m playing with great guys right now,” said Sucharski, who’s been moved from center to right wing, while Chris Mueller has been moved from wing to center.
“Mueller played great tonight,” said Sucharski. “You play with guys like that and they put you in positions to get the goals. A lot of the time I find myself getting those easy goals; not easy goals per se, but just being in the right place at the right time, and it’s helping.”
Crowder said that the third period, scoreless until Abdelkader’s empty-net goal at 19:35, was hotly contested. It was Jeff Lerg’s save on Patrick Schafer with 7:10 remaining that was the final say in the game. Schafer and Nick Biando broke into the Spartan zone two-on-one with Biando behind. Schafer took the initial shot with Lerg slightly out of position, but Lerg got a foot on it for the save. Biando picked up the rebound but again Lerg was in position to prevent the score, if not really stop the puck.
“The first one there [Schafer], he made a real nice play,” said Lerg. “I was kind of moving one way and he shot it back the other way and I had to kick my toe out. The rebound, I’m pretty sure it hit the post. I don’t think I ever got my glove on that. If you want to say I did, I’ll take that.
“That was their only really great chance there throughout the whole period. I thought we did a really good job of keeping it in their zone and cycling it and taking the time of possession away from them, not giving them any time to cycle it in our zone.”
“They came out hard in that third, and we really had to take it to them,” said Crowder. “We’ve got to take the positive out of that third period and hopefully it will carry over to tomorrow.”
The win extends Michigan State’s undefeated CCHA streak to nine games (7-0-2) and the Spartans are now 6-0-1 in league road games this year. When the Spartans and Buckeyes meet again Saturday night, OSU will be looking for just their second home league win of the season.
“We at spurts played well, but the consistency’s not there from line to line, and [MSU] had a lot to do with it, but we also had a lot to do with it,” said Markell. “We had seven penalties against and they had two, and that’s usually an indication that you’re just a step behind.”
The puck drops at 7:35 Saturday in Value City Arena when Michigan State (15-5-4, 11-2-2 CCHA) and Ohio State (7-6-2, 3-11-1 CCHA) square off for the rematch.