EAST LANSING, Mich. — It was a game in which neither team provided many opponent opportunities, but Michigan State’s special teams proved to be the difference-makers, as MSU outlasted Lake Superior State, 4-2, in the first game of this weekend series.
“They play the game properly, and they’re dangerous, and they put the puck on the net from everywhere,” said Spartans’ coach Rick Comley. “Very steady and well-coached. The key, I thought tonight, was their power play. We shut their power play down and it’s the best power-play in the league and you knew it was going to be important. ”
Technically, the Spartans had two power-play goals — one was Andrew Rowe’s empty-netter at 19:26 in the third. MSU kept LSSU to 0-for-4 on the power play; Spartans’ goaltender Drew Palmisano stopped 31-of-33 in the game.
“I like how we played in third period,” said Lakers’ head coach Jim Roque. “We played a lot more aggressive and got after the puck. We were a little tentative early. Even game. The difference in the game is that they score a power-play goal and we don’t.”
The Spartans took an early 1-0 lead when Nick Sucharski capitalized on the first power play of the game just seven seconds after the interference penalty to Simon Gysbers was called. Sucharski took a pass from Corey Tropp and shot from the left point, beating LSSU goaltender Brian Mahoney-Wilson clean and low on the stick side at 3:23 for the only goal of the period.
“That was a bang-bang off the faceoff,” said Roque. “We need that save, though. I think that Brian would tell you, too.”
Michigan State scored early in the second for a two-goal lead, Rowe’s first goal of the game from Dustin Gazley and Daultan Leveille. Gazley took the puck into the LSSU zone and muscled his way past Laker Nick McParland to send a pass across the slot to Rowe, who fired into the half-open LSSU net at 2:08.
The Lakers answered less than a minute later to trim the Spartans’ lead back to one on John Scrymgeour’s first goal of the night. Scrymgeour took a pass from Domenic Monardo and took advantage of the half-open Spartans’ net, shooting short-side on Palmisano at 2:42.
Persistence around the Lakers’ net led to Derek Grant’s goal at 17:11 in the second to increase the MSU lead to two again. Torey Krug had taken the puck across the crease with traffic in front of Mahoney-Wilson and shot toward the far side of the net; Krug intercepted and tucked it in behind Mahoney-Wilson, who was drawn to the opposite way to defend against Krug.
At 2:41 in the third, Scrymgeour scored his second of the night by skating in and deking Rowe in the left circle before taking the puck across the crease to backhand it toward the net. The puck went in off a Spartan skate to make it a 3-2 game, and Scrymgeour earned his career-best fifth goal of the season.
The rest of the third period posed challenges for both teams. The Spartans spent the first half of the period without Tropp, the leading goal-scorer in the country, because the junior forward was serving a 10-minute misconduct for unsportsmanlike conduct that he took at 19:32 in the second when he shot the puck after the whistle had blown at a Laker in retaliation for a hit that he had taken. The Lakers finished the stanza short-handed, as Pat Aubry was called for tripping at 18:03. Rowe added the empty-net goal at 19:26.
“It was a tough third period,” said Comley. “We lose Tropp for the first ten minutes of that period…not only the quality of the player, but then I’ve got to double-shift some guys and you lose a kid who’s the leading goal-scorer in the country. Not the most intelligent play.”
Both goaltenders played well down the stretch, but Mahoney-Wilson made a save on Daultan Leveille with 5:16 to go — robbing the Spartan of an insurance goal on a backhanded pistol shot from point-blank range. Mahoney-Wilson made 28 saves on the 31 shots he faced.
“He made a huge save to keep it 3-2 with about four or five minutes to go,” said Roque, “which gives us a chance, but we took a penalty at the end and that’s the way it goes. I didn’t think we had a lot of puck luck tonight.
“We have to bounce back tomorrow. We have a big game tomorrow, to not get swept and stay in the hunt a little bit for that top part of the league, so it’s a big game for us.”
The Lakers (12-8-3, 7-7-1 CCHA) and Spartans (15-6-2, 10-3-2 CCHA) meet again at 5:05 p.m. Saturday in Munn Ice Arena.