Saturday, February 4, 2012

Ice hockey picks up sweep at Ohio State

(Box score here)

After the first period of Friday's game, MSU trailed No. 10 Ohio State 3-1. Given what the team had done so far in 2012, I texted my friend and told him the Spartans were starting to tailspin. MSU scored eight of the next 10 goals in the series, resulting in a sweep and me eating my words.

MSU won 6-3 on Friday and held on for a 3-2 win on Saturday, dramatically helping their NCAA Tournament chances. MSU now is 4-1-1 against top-10 teams this season.

As mentioned before, the Spartans gave up a goal one minute in and trailed 3-1 after one period on Friday, but rebounded with a three-goal third. The goals came from A.J. Sturges — his first in 175 games — Torey Krug and Matt Crandell. With about five minutes left in the third, Chris Forfar redirected a loose puck to give MSU a 5-3 lead. Matt Berry's empty netter sealed the comeback. Will Yanakeff had 41 saves in goal — his third game with at least 40 saves this season.

(Video highlights of Friday's game from MSU here)

(Saturday highlights)

On Saturday, the Spartans jumped out to a strong start. Berry scored midway through the first period to give MSU the lead. Two minutes into the second, Jake Chelios buried a puck to extend MSU's lead to 2-0. Later in the period, Krug scored a powerplay goal as the Spartans appeared to be pulling away. But less than one minute later, the Buckeyes got on the board, and a few minutes after that, they cut MSU's lead to 3-2. The Spartans were able to kill of three penalties in the third period and hold on to the win. Yanakeff made 33 saves in net.

Special teams were the story for MSU on the weekend. Remember how the MSU powerplay went 28 chances before finally getting a goal last weekend? This weekend, MSU went 3-for-9 with the man advantage (1-for-3 on Friday, 2-for-6 on Saturday). On the other side, the Spartans killed all 14 penalties over the weekend. While that number is nice, they're not going to get away with committing 14 penalties on most weekends. However, MSU has committed the third-fewest penalties among CCHA teams this season.

After being swept by Ferris State last week, MSU dropped to No. 20 in the Pairwise rankings, and its NCAA Tournament at-large chances were heading in the wrong direction. But with the sweep of the Buckeyes — who are 0-6-4 in their last 10 games (talk about a tailspin) — MSU has moved up to No. 13 in the Pairwise.

Next up is a huge series against Michigan, which has used the GLI win over MSU to springboard to a successful 2012 thus far. MSU hosts the Wolverines on Friday, and the teams meet at Joe Louis Arena on Saturday. There are three regular season series left. Three of those games are at Munn Ice Arena, and only two are true road games.

Given how this team has been hot and cold all season, perhaps this weekend's sweep could propel the Spartans to earning a first-round bye in the CCHA Tournament.

(Friday box score here, Saturday box score here)

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