EAST LANSING, Mich. – When a game begins and ends the way this 4-3 Wisconsin win over Michigan State did, it’s difficult to point to any one factor to define its outcome. Instead, it may be best to quote the winning coach, Mike Eaves.
“It was an interesting night for sure,” said Eaves
A four-goal lead that evaporated, a major penalty and game misconduct on the Badgers’ leading scorer, a penalty shot for Michigan State in which the scorer had the goalie beat and then lost the puck, and a losing team that put up 30 shots in the final two periods to the winner’s 13?
Yes, it was an interesting night. For sure.
The Badgers led 4-0 at the end of the first in spite of having to kill a five-minute major for hitting from behind called against Mark Zengerle, Wisconsin’s first-line center, at 6:49. In fact, the Badgers led 2-0 before the period was two minutes old, and it seemed like nearly anything they threw at Michigan State goaltender Will Yanakeff was destined for the back of the net.
At 2:55, it was Nic Kerdiles from Zengerle on the first shot on goal during Wisconsin’s first power play. At 4:27, Gavin Hartzog made it 2-0 with his shot from the right circle that went in near side.
Two late first-period goals made it 4-0, Sean Little’s at 14:52 and Grant Besse’s at 16:31. All the first-period goals were scored even -strength. Besse’s goal was a rocket that hit the post and never looked back.
Michigan State coach Tom Anastos said he considered replacing Yanakeff, a senior, after the first period, but said that he saw something in the goalie’s eyes that told him that Yanakeff should finish the game. In fact, Anastos said he saw a lot from his team that he liked — in the final 40 minutes.
“We didn’t have it in the first period,” said Anastos. “They were very dominant. We dug ourselves a hole that we couldn’t quite dig out of. On the bright side, it showed again our resilience to keep coming back. It also showed that we competed really hard in those 40 minutes; it leaves you wanting in the other 20.”
The Spartans began to mount a comeback at the start of the second period with Matt Berry’s power-play goal at 1:26, another fluky circumstance in already strange game, a puck that Berry was the last to touch before it flipped out in front of the Wisconsin net only to hit Badger Michael Mersch in the head before ricocheting back behind Wisconsin goalie Joel Rumpel.
Four minutes later, Joe Cox took the penalty shot for the Spartans and lost the puck at the last second. Four minutes after that, Dean Chelios made it a 4-2 game with his shot from the right circle that hit Rumpel’s stick and instead of bouncing out to the front of the crease went behind the netminder to cut the Badgers’ lead in half.
Villiam Haag scored at 5:25 in the third and the Spartans pressed for the remainder of the game, but could not find an equalizer.
“It’s disappointing,” said Anastos. “You want to win your last game here. You want to win your last game for your seniors. I thought we left something on the table, so I’m disappointed.”
“You get off to the type of lead we had, and where pucks were going in off the post, we were making good plays and then the second period, they fought back,” said Eaves. “By that time, though, we were missing our first line center and we were asking an awful lot from people to play different roles. That’s why I think you use the word ‘gutty,’ ‘interesting.’ We had guys that had to perform different duties and had to play a lot more than they usually would have. In the end, that’s the silver lining. We found a way to win and those guys get that good experience.”
With Zengerle out of the lineup, the Badgers tried at least a dozen different line combinations. Said Eaves, “It’s like, ‘Okay, who’s up next?’ And I talked to the boys a couple of times on the bench. ‘What do you feel? Who do you have some chemistry with?’ There was a little bit of renaissance, a little art and science in there, trying to blend the two together.”
Wisconsin (22-10-2, 13-6-1-0 Big Ten) finishes the regular season in second place and will get a first-round bye in next week’s Big Ten championship tournament. Michigan State (11-17-7, 5-9-6-4 Big Ten) finishes in fifth place and will meet Ohio State in the first round of that tourney.