COLUMBUS, Ohio — After two close periods of hockey, the No. 7 Michigan State Spartans broke it open with three third-period goals to defeat the Ohio State Buckeyes, 4-0, and earn their first sweep in Columbus since January of 2004.
Junior goaltender Jeff Lerg stopped all 23 shots he faced for his first shutout of the season. Matt Schepke’s power-play goal at 5:53 in the first held up to be the game-winner, and Justin Abdelkader had two goals in the third to lead the Spartans.
“I thought we were real sloppy for two and I thought Ohio State had a lot to do with that,” said MSU coach Rick Comley. “I thought they were well-prepared and they came out and turned it into really a tight game. It was really hard to get shots. The quick goal in the third period really broke their spirits.”
Leading 1-0 at the start of the third on Schepke’s goal, the Spartans won the opening faceoff, brought the play to the Buckeyes’ zone immediately and scored 28 seconds in.
“They’re the defending national champions for a reason,” said OSU captain Matt McIlvane. “They know how to close a game. They come out and score on the first shift of the third period. We were chasing our own tails around for the rest of the time just trying to catch them.”
The Spartans took 10 penalties for 31 minutes, including Schepke’s game misconduct in the third period following a scuffle near the OSU net, a skirmish in which the Buckeyes’ Shane Sims also received a gamer. All told, Ohio State had seven power plays outright, including well over seven minutes in the first 10 minutes of the second period, but their inability to penetrate the MSU defense led to their inability to capitalize, said coach John Markell.
“They’ve got it packed in front and our guys have to learn how to fight through that and get pucks through,” said Markell. “When we did create those opportunities, Lerg played well. In the third period, once they got the [two-goal] lead, it started going the other way for us.”
Schepke’s power-play goal, his 10th tally of the season, completed a play begun by Tim Crowder at the left point. Crowder whiffed on a shot, then tried to shoot again but couldn’t get good wood on the puck, which squibbed up to the slot and hit Bryan Lerg in the foot. Lerg pirouetted with the puck on his stick and fired at Dustin Carlson, who made the save but gave up the rebound to the right. Schepke backhanded it in at 5:53.
On Abdelkader’s first goal, the Spartans’ junior first hit the right post from the left point, sending the puck behind the net where a battle for possession ensued. Corey Tropp fought for the puck and passed back out to Abdelkader, who fired it in from the bottom of the slot for MSU’s two-goal lead at :28.
At 10:31, Abdelkader added his second while on a power play. From the bottom of the right circle, Abdelkader crashed into the OSU zone following the Buckeyes’ clear.
Mueller scored a shorthanded breakaway at 13:57 but had to wait 42 seconds before the goal was allowed. The center flew down the right wing and ripped one that dinged the post and went in, but play continued with neither a lit lamp nor an indication from an official. When play was stopped for a whistle a bit later, the goal was reviewed and allowed.
Abdelkader, who had three goals in the weekend with his empty-netter in Friday night’s 4-1 MSU win, said that Tropp’s play behind the net was key to the early goal in the third.
“Corey Tropp made a really good play going in and taking the body,” said Abdelkader. “He took the defenseman right off the puck and found me in the slot with a perfect good pass.
“On the power play, Timmy made a good pass to Ratchuk and Ratchuk made an unbelievable pass back-door to me and I was fortunate enough to be there.”
Markell said that MSU’s suffocating defense and Jeff Lerg’s play were instrumental in the Spartans’ win.
“It’s disappointing for guys because for a team like that, if you’re going a little bit toe-to-toe with, whether they played well or not in the first two periods, I thought we were right there and you have to take advantage of your opportunities and Lerg was there to stop them.”
For Lerg, the shutout was the seventh of his career. “I’m thrilled for Jeff,” said Comley. “He certainly deserves it. He’s had many taken away by late goals, believe me, and I was really proud of the team, the way they rallied together in the third period.”
For Lerg, who’s had six one-goal wins and a 1-1 tie this season, the shutout was a long time coming. “I kind of got the goals in the first period, so I had no chance for shutouts.”
Lerg also credited the team in front of him for part of his success tonight. “Really good job by the defensemen, too. A lot of blocked shots in the third and they didn’t really get too many good scoring chances throughout the whole game, so obviously I’m real happy and the defense did a real good job.”
Beyond the play of Lerg and the defense, Comley gave another reason for the Spartans’ win, especially the third-period offensive explosion.
“I stayed out of the locker room [between the second and third]. Obviously I had no good impact for two periods. I thought I’d keep my mouth shut.”
Next up for the Spartans (16-5-4, 12-2-2 CCHA) is a home-and-home series with archrival No. 1 Michigan Jan. 25-26, while the Buckeyes (7-17-2, 3-12-1 CCHA) head to Lake Superior to tangle with the Lakers.