Saturday, February 11, 2012

Icers split weekend with rival Michigan

(Friday box score here, Saturday box score here)

With only three series left, the Spartan hockey team was running out of opportunities to pick up ground in the CCHA standings.

This weekend, the Spartans nearly came away with six points, and they nearly came away with no points. They finished the weekend with three points in a series split against Michigan, winning in East Lansing on Friday and losing in overtime in Detroit on Saturday.

On Friday, the Spartans fell behind 2-0 in the second period, but then Torey Krug took over. A one-time shot from the blue line got through a crowd and past Michigan goalie Shawn Hunwick to cut the deficit to 2-1. In the third period, Krug scored a powerplay goal on a delayed shot from the point to tie the game. On another powerplay a few minutes later, a backhanded shot by Krug in the slot deflected over to Matt Berry, who buried the puck to give MSU a 3-2 lead. The Spartans killed a penalty in the final minutes and held on for the win. Will Yanakeff made 28 saves for MSU.

Saturday's game at Joe Louis Arena was a high-energy back-and-forth affair. The Wolverines led 1-0 after the first period, but Greg Wolfe tied the game up 3:32 into the second. Brett Perlini scored a powerplay goal a few minutes later to give MSU the lead. But U-M evened things up heading into the third. The third period was full of scoring chances on both sides, but, Yanakeff and Hunwick kept coming up with big saves.

The game went to overtime, where Kevin Lynch buried a loose puck in front to give the Wolverines the win. The puck bounced through MSU's Matt Crandell, Bill Buckner-style, right to Lynch. It wasn't MSU's second straight overtime loss to U-M at The Joe, with the other coming in the Great Lakes Invitational Championship. Yanakeff made 32 saves in net for MSU.

Getting a split against the No. 4 team in the country, there was plenty for MSU to be happy about, even if a loss to a rival is tough and a big opportunity was squandered. The penalty kill has killed off 20 straight chances, while the Spartans have scored six powerplay goals in the last four games — a far cry from when they went on an 0-for-28 stretch a few weeks ago.

Again, the Spartans should be happy with three points, given the fact they easily could have come away with none. Friday's win moved the Spartans from seventh place into a tie for third in the CCHA, but Saturday's loss moved them back down to fifth. If MSU wants to get a bye in the CCHA Tournament, they'll probably need to sweep Alaska next weekend. The top five teams gets a bye, but No. 5 has to travel to No. 4 in the quarterfinals.

As for their NCAA Tournament chances, they moved up to a tie for 12th in the PairWise rankings. Tom Anastos has been a shot in the arm for this program, and an NCAA Tournament berth would put a stamp on the beginning of the Anastos era, but there is a lot of work to be done.

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