EAST LANSING, Mich. — Things are suddenly different for the Michigan State Spartans. After enduring both a 12 game winless streak and another six game streak without a victory, they suddenly can’t lose.
Behind 35 saves from senior captain Jeff Lerg and two third period goals from freshmen, the Spartans pulled out a come-from-behind, 3-2 win over the Bowling Green Falcons on their own ice, extending their unbeaten streak to five games. They haven’t lost in the month of February.
With the home victory, Michigan State improves to 10-18-5 on the season overall, including 7-14-4-3 in CCHA games. Bowling Green dropped to 10-20-3 and 7-17-1-0, respectively.
“I thought the third period was our best period,” said Michigan State Coach Rick Comley. “We got three (goals) tonight. That’s a lot for us. I wanted that fourth one pretty bad, just to breathe.”
“Our best period has been our third period the last couple of games,” he added. “We cut down the shots against, increase the shots for, we outscore our opponents in the third period.”
Trailing by a goal in the third period with 13:54 remaining, Michigan State got the game-tying score when freshman center Daultan Leveille plowed through two Falcons’ defensemen with the puck before shooting into the net off the top crossbar.
Just 26 seconds later, before the home crowd had even regained their seats, the Spartans took their first lead of the game when freshman defenseman Brock Shelgren launched a slapshot from the top of the zone that somehow beat Bowling Green senior goaltender Jimmy Spratt.
“I was coming in from a line change, and they tried chipping it out,” said Shelgren. “It was just right there for me, and I just wound up and tried to put it on net, and it went in for me, so it worked out.”
For the last place Falcons, this was a tough loss knowing they had the third-period lead.
“It was a hard-fought game,” Bowling Green Coach Scott Paluch said. “I thought our guys deserved better. They scored three goals; we scored two. That’s it.”
Trailing 3-2 after the two quick Michigan State goals, the Falcons fought off two five-on-three chances for Michigan State with some excellent defense.
“Our penalty-kill was tremendous,” Paluch added. “It certainly gave us a chance at the end of the game. Both those 5-on-3s were outstanding.”
The first period was somewhat dull in comparison to the game’s final period.
Bowling Green took the lead with 6:16 to go in the first period on a power play chance. Senior defenseman Kevin Schmidt’s shot from the middle of zone, just to the goaltender’s left, went through a crowd and into the net. Junior wing Todd McIlrath basically shielded Lerg from seeing the puck.
“My concern is fatigue,” Comley said. “I thought we were really tired in the first period. Just no emotion, no jump.”
Spartans sophomore Dustin Gazely had two serious scoring chances, one shorthanded 2-on-1 before the Falcons’ goal and one even-strength breakaway with a minute left. On the first, the crossing pass was broken up, and on the second, Spratt was able to stuff the puck. That was as close as Michigan State got to scoring in the first period.
The second period was a bit more lively, however.
Senior wing Matt Schepke’s quick wrister has been evident all season for Michigan State, even if the results haven’t shown up on the scoreboard or in the win column. The Falcons got a dose of that wrister in the middle frame on a Spartans power play opportunity 7:00 into the period.
From the top of the zone, Schepke let loose, and the puck found nothing but net. Somewhere, Maurice Richard blinked, and the score was tied, 1-1.
“Scoring creates positive emotion,” Comley said. “The whole mentality on the bench changes. That’s what we’ve fought all year. If we score just a little ”
Bowling Green battled back, however, scoring just seconds after they had a power play opportunity expire. With 5:20 left in the period, junior wing Tomas Petruska found himself with a puck rebound right in front of the net to easily beat Lerg for the score, his first of the season.
“I thought it was a good goal,” Paluch said. “Hopefully, it will spark him.”
During the preceding power play, Lerg had made some amazing saves for the Spartans, including a flat-out horizontal dive to his right to make one incredible stop. As a result, the crowd began chanting, “You got Lerged!”, to the stunned Falcons.
“Jeff made a couple really fun saves,” Comley said. “The one in the second period was unreal.”
For the record, this was the 15th straight game that Lerg has saved 29+ shots for Michigan State. His season save percentage (.924) is better than his career save percentage (.923), and for a goalie with a resume like Lerg’s, it demonstrates a lot about his tremendous play this year in the face of serious adversity.
“We’re always playing even or behind one,” Comley said. “Everything’s so tight. It’s fortunate we have who we have in the net.”
The two CCHA teams play again tomorrow night in Bowling Green. The action starts early at 5:05 p.m. ET.