BOWLING GREEN, Ohio — The Michigan State Spartans club finished the regular season on a high note, getting a shutout performance from goaltender Jeff Lerg, as the Spartans downed the Bowling Green Falcons, 4-0, at the BG Ice Arena on Saturday night.
The junior netminder from Livonia, Michigan came up with 32 saves to notch his 4th shutout of the season, a career high.
Ive had a few games where they scored late on me to take the shutout away, so its nice to be able to finish this one out, said Lerg. Im usually not a shutout goaltender. I usually give up one or two on a consistent basis, but Ill take them when they come.
It was a strong effort by our team, said BG coach Scott Paluch. We worked hard. I just thought Michigan State was very solid and alert defensively tonight. We were able to get some shots through and have some territorial possession at times, but we just couldnt break through.
We thought about not playing Jeff, but were better when hes in there, so we went with our best, said MSU coach Rick Comley.
The Spartan defense stepped up to help the cause as well, giving the Falcons limited opportunities to penetrate the offensive zone, while creating turnovers at the blue line.
The defense was pretty solid, said Comley. Bowling Green has pretty good speed. Our group of defensemen played one of their better games. We didnt get outnumbered tonight. Last night, they had a lot of odd-man rushes. Tonight, they didnt get that.
The team did a real good defensive job, explained Lerg. Yesterday was a real sloppy game. We had too many turnovers in the neutral zone, but today, we played a good, smart road game. We got the lead early, and played a good defensive game after that.
Chris Mueller and Tim Kennedy scored the first two goals for MSU, both coming off turnovers, allowing the Spartans to begin pulling away in the game.
Mueller netted the Spartans opening goal at 5:42 of the 1st period. Linemate Tim Kennedy picked up the puck off a turnover in the MSU zone. He fed a pass to Mueller who took off on a breakaway, beating Jimmy Spratt on the glove side for his 11th goal of the season.
Kennedy increased the lead to 2-0 midway through the 2nd period. Putting on the brakes at the circle to lose a defender, Kennedy was able to fire a wrister that found an opening at the right side of the net for his 18th goal of the season.
We got caught, said Paluch. They left a guy back on the first goal, and we didnt get the great read for the breakaway goal. We dont get the puck deep on the second one, and they get the 2 on 1.
Jeff Dunne and Mueller each added two more goals to complete the scoring.
With thirds place secured, the Spartans receive a first-round bye in the CCHA playoffs.
All year weve shown that we can play with everybody, said Comley. We havent gotten everything figured out yet. That quality of opponent now gets better on a consistent basis. Were capable. Whether we can put it together at the level we need to, Im not sure. But we certainly have shown all year that we can play with everybody.
Last year we stumbled into [the playoffs], added Lerg. We had to do a 180 to get going. This year, its a better situation where weve got guys playing well. Defense wins championships and tonight was a good sign.
The Falcons, who entered the weekend in a four”way tie for 5th place in the league, drop to 7th and will host Lake Superior State in the first round of the CCHA playoffs next weekend.
The seventh place finish is well above the 12th place prediction made by both the media and coaches in the preseason.
We wanted fifth place, so we didnt accomplish that, said Paluch. But we did earn the opportunity to play at home in the playoffs, at that was a positive step. Compared to where we finished a year ago, there was definite progress made. Now, we want to focus on earning the chance of getting to the second round of the playoffs.