EAST LANSING, Mich. — Night two of the Michigan State-Northern Michigan quarterfinals automatically started in the Spartans’ favor. With home ice, a recent National Championship and last night’s 5-1 win, who wouldn’t be intimidated? However, intimidation can only inhibit teams when they allow it, and the Wildcats were ready to stand their ground and did so with a 2-1 win.
“You could tell in the first period, right away, that there was more energy on the ice,” Wildcats’ goalie Brian Stewart said. “We talked about it in the room: you’ve just got to give it everything you’ve got. We’re going to have to do it again tomorrow and we know what a good team they are and they’re going to be coming back full force, so it should be a battle.”
The game picked up at 4:39 when Northern’s Matt Siddall took a tripping call. In yesterday’s game, the Spartans took advantage of three power plays and it looked like it was going to happen again tonight. The Spartans scored after Stewart blocked a shot. He lay face down on the ice, facing the net, when the puck went in the net from the point. It was immediately washed out; redirection by a skate.
“They have one heck of a power play,” Wildcats’ coach Walt Kyle said. “I can tell you, their power play is unbelievable. We fortunately killed some off there.”
The second period took off at 3:56 when the Wildcats scored. Freshmen duo Erik Gustafsson and Mark Olver broke away from the neutral zone. Gustafsson fed the puck to Olver at the center. He skated towards the net and wristed the puck where goalie Jeff Lerg’s glove wasn’t fast enough to stop it.
Wildcats’ co-captain TJ Miller took a hooking penalty at 18:39 to prove the Spartans dominate power plays. Jeff Petry and Bryan Lerg gave the puck to Tim Crowder, who fired it from the center of the right faceoff circle, going stick side on Stewart.
The game was tied 1-1 and as the second period came to an end, emotions ran high. So did sticks, as the Spartans’ Brandon Gentile took a contact to the head/high sticking penalty after the whistle to give the ‘Cats a five-on-four for the first two minutes of the third period.
At 8:13 in the third, the ‘Cats regained their lead. Derek May shot the puck towards the goal from the left faceoff circle where Lerg had the save. Matt Butcher was in front of the net and tried to get the rebound, but Lerg was resilient until the puck went back to Northern’s Ray Kaunisto, who was waiting at the right faceoff circle to send the puck flying right of Lerg and into the net.
“It was a great shot by May and then Butcher got the tip,” Kaunisto said. “It gave off a nice rebound that went right to my stick. It was a lucky goal.”
The Spartans pulled JLerg with 1:26 left in the game in hopes of tying it up, but the ‘Cats locked it up despite taking five penalties in the period. The majority of State’s shot were obstructed before they reached the net and the puck was cleared several times, providing necessary line changes for the Wildcats and taking time off the penalties.
“That was the game changer,” Miller said. “We needed to kill those penalties and luckily we only had about 30 seconds of the five-on three.
“There’s two parts of the game, offensively and defensively, and I have to step up my game in my own end (defensive end) and that’s how you’re going to win.”
Stewart had 41 saves on the night, helping the Cats take the series to game three.
“I just thought some of the bounces went my way,” Stewart said. “It didn’t feel like too much of a change from last night. I saw the puck really well and was pushing towards my rebounds and when I had to make the second save tonight, I did.
“The defense was doing a great job between Dorich, Cosgrove, the whole line. We played a lot better as a team. We were playing with desperation and that’s what it takes. Just like last series. We went down first game and came back. It’s just being desperate.”
Playoff hopes lie in Sundays game. The puck drops at 7:05 at Munn Ice Arena.
“We’re fired up and when it comes down to the end of the season and your season’s right on the end of the line, you want to survive,” Kaunisto said. “You just stick down and do everything you can to win. We’re getting ready for tomorrow night. Never too high. Never too low.”