EAST LANSING, Mich. — When Michigan State beat Alaska, 3-2, in overtime tonight, the situation felt all too familiar to each team. This was MSU’s ninth overtime game of the season — the second in a row — and the seventh OT contest for Alaska. It was the Spartans’ 16th game decided by a goal — seven of those were wins — in addition to MSU’s four ties.
For the Nanooks, it was the 10th one-goal game of the year, in addition to four ties. The difference between these teams? Eight of Alaska’s one-goal games have been losses, three in overtime.
“It was really a gut-check time for us this late in the season, and we found a way to get it done in overtime,” said Brett Perlini, who had the game-winning goal at 3:07 in OT after stealing the puck from an Alaska defender directly in front of the Nanooks’ net. “Not the prettiest effort, but we found a way to win.”
“The third overtime loss,” said Alaska coach Dallas Ferguson. “It’s tough, but it’s going to be tough coming into the next couple weeks into the playoffs. We can’t get into a turnover game, because if you turn pucks over, that’s what’s going to happen.”
The Nanooks took the early 1-0 lead when Scott Enders scored on a delayed penalty at 8:33 in the first and had another goal waved off at 12:40, but the rest of the first period belonged to Michigan State — and, more specifically, to Brent Darnell, who netted two goals less than a minute apart to give MSU a 2-1 lead after one.
For both goals, Darnell finished what other players started. Jake Chelios had the first assist on Darnell’s goal at 14:41 on a power play, a hard shot from the top of the crease that went wide of the net and bounced off the dashers behind the cage, right to Darnell’s stick left of Alaska goaltender Scott Greenham. For his goal at 15:16, Darnell found Torey Krug’s cross-crease pass to the right of the Alaska net and scored on the short side. Both goals were one-timers.
Darnell said that the two goals gave him and linemates Dean Chelios and Tanner Sorenson a dose of confidence.
“Last weekend [against Michigan] our line had quite the chances and just couldn’t get one,” said Darnell. “We went right back out there after that power play [tonight] and got another quick one. Krug made a great pass to me. It was definitely good to get on the board early. I think our line really needed that, and it kind of gave us momentum for the rest of the game.”
After Cody Kunyk tied it for Alaska on a power play at 13:23 in the second, a shot that hit MSU goaltender Will Yanakeff’s leg before hitting the back of the net, both teams had chances, but both goalies were solid. Greenham made some athletic saves late in the second and through the third, and Yanakeff backstopped more than a minute of a five-on-three Alaska advantage early in the third.
Perlini said the successful PK, coupled with the realization that this weekend may be the last home weekend of the year for the Spartans, helped elevate MSU in the third.
“If they go down and score,” said Perlini, “they take all the momentum, but we killed it off with some great team play. From then on, it seemed like we rallied around that and we got our energy from that.”
Perlini, a senior, said that the discussion in the MSU locker room before the third period helped motivate the team.
“Something Coach Anastos said between periods that really stuck with me was that it could be our last home series for myself and my career,” said Perlini. “I mean, that really hit me hard. I just said, ‘Well, let’s just leave everything out there and go battle and see what happens.’ Fortunately, we came out on top.”
“It was a win, and in the end that was the most important thing tonight,” said MSU coach Tom Anastos. “We saw what we expected to see from Alaska. That’s a very good team. I thought their goaltender played great. They’re very difficult to play against, and I didn’t think we had the jump, the emotional edge that I was concerned about all week, and yet we were able to hang in there and get better as the game wore on. In the third period we played a real good game.”
The teams meet again at 8:05 p.m. Saturday in Munn Ice Arena.