EAST LANSING, Mich. — Early in the third period with Michigan State leading Michigan 3-0, this game looked to be all over but the shouting. Then there was shouting. And shoving. A 10-man dance in the corner. Then two Wolverine power-play goals to make this just what fans expected it to be: emotional, entertaining, close.
In the end, the Spartans prevailed, 3-2, over the Wolverines in a contest that saw two goals disallowed in the third and a total of 19 power plays and 65 penalty minutes, most of which came late in the game.
Corey Tropp’s second power-play goal of the game at 3:50 in the third — scored before UM had even found the net — held up to be the game-winner in third meeting between the arch-rivals this season, all of which have gone MSU’s way.
“It was a barn-burner, absolutely, but those penalties it’s a pretty solid win for us,” said MSU head coach Rick Comley. “It’s a great win, no matter what.
“They were good enough to get back in it and take advantage of it and we gave them some opportunity.”
The Spartans were dominant for the first 43:50 of the game. Tropp scored his first goal at 15:16 in the first with Wolverine Kevin Lynch in the box for tripping, picking up the trash around the UM goalmouth with players of both teams crowding the net. Torey Krug took the first shot that sent the puck into the fray from the right point, and then the puck bounced around among several players, ending up on Tropp’s stick. The junior backhanded it in past UM goaltender Bryan Hogan for his 18th goal of the season.
MSU made it a 2-0 game after two on Andrew Rowe’s goal at 17:21. Rowe and Dustin Gazley broke 2-on-1 into the Wolverine zone with Gazley left and Rowe right. Gazley passed on the fly, Rowe shot without stopping, and the puck caught the inside of the left post before ricocheting back and in.
At 2:51 in the third, Tropp netted his second of the game when he picked up his own rebound and went behind Hogan to put the puck into the net cleanly. It was 3-0 Michigan State — for about a minute.
At 3:10, Spartan Matt Grassi flew into the left corner in the Spartan zone and hit Wolverine A.J. Treais. Eight seconds later, several players began to mix it up along the boards directly behind the MSU net. Grassi jumped into that pile, a move that resembled gasoline seeking an open flame. The whistle blew and the players went. No punches were thrown, no one was hurt, but the altercation nudged the Wolverines into action.
“I hope it didn’t take a scrum to wake us up,” said UM head coach Red Berenson. “There should be emotion between these teams, but it should be in better control.”
Whatever the reason, the Wolverines took advantage of a clear momentum swing and cut the score to 3-1 at 3:50 in the third when Carl Hagelin scored a connect-the-dots goal from Matt Rust and Kevin Lynch from right of the crease.
Spartan Dean Chelios took an ill-advised tripping call in his offensive zone at 16:40. Wolverine Louie Caporusso capitalized, scoring from the right faceoff dot, a shot that looked like it hit something other than Palmisano on the way in, making it a 3-2 game.
With an awakened Wolverines offense and emotions high, there was no way this game was going to end cleanly — in any sense of the word. On the very next shift, Rowe took the puck into the UM zone, spun, and fed Zach Josepher, whose shot from the right circle was on target. Hogan made the stop, the puck popped directly up and UM captain Chris Summers was there to attempt to clear.
Instead, Hogan was caught out of the net and Rowe skated into the crease — nearly into the net itself — hip-checking Summers out of the way to scoop up the loose puck and seemingly score to extend the Spartan lead to two again. The light went on and referee Matt Shegos pointed to the goal.
The four on-ice officials huddled and the goal was waved off . and Rowe was sent to the penalty box for a checking-from-behind minor. Comley said that the officials never went to tape to review the play, nor was a penalty assessed at the time of the play.
“It was blown for a goal,” said Comley. “When the four of them got together, one of the ARs said it was hitting from behind, and they took the goal away and gave him a penalty. Whatever.”
With 31.8 seconds remaining in regulation, the Wolverines had a goal of their own whistled off. With Rowe still in the box and Hogan pulled to give UM a two-man advantage, Chris Brown seemed to beat Palmisano five-hole, the goal was immediately waved off.
“The way the players explained it, he [Palmisano] covered the puck for a split second before a player hit it before the whistle,” said Berenson. “The referee either blew the whistle or intended to blow the whistle, so he’s right there.”
And with UM playing hard, empty-net hockey at the end of the game, with 8.1 seconds to go, Carl Hagelin and David Wohlberg took minor penalties to give MSU a final five-on-three.
“You’re disappointed to get behind like that and penalties played a big role in this game,” said Berenson. “The momentum went one way or the other. There’s controversy. It’s too bad there has to be controversy. Was the puck in? Wasn’t it in? Should it have been a penalty or not?
“It’s too bad. The players should be deciding these games.”
Berenson was quick to point out that the Wolverines could blame more than their penalties for this contest’s end result.
“I didn’t think our team played very well at the outset of the game and then we played better as the game wore on and got ourselves back in the game,” said Berenson, “but you’ve got to play better in the first period if you’re going to put a team like that back on their heels and we didn’t do that.”
“I thought we played really well for forty minutes,” said Comley. “You’re up three. If penalties don’t start happening, I don’t think they get back in it, but it did. They’ve got good players, they’ve got skill.
“Nineteen power plays. Obviously a trend. Seventeen in [each of] the last two games. Nineteen tonight. Holy cow.”
The Wolverines (14-12-1 overall, 9-9-1 in the CCHA) and Spartans (17-8-4, 12-5-4 CCHA) meet for the final time during the regular 2009-10 season Saturday night in Joe Louis Arena, where the puck will drop at 7:35 p.m.