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MSU's top line propels Spartans to sweep No. 19 Wisconsin

December 7, 2019
Players celebrate a goal by forward Tommy Miller (12) during the game against Wisconsin at the Munn Ice Arena on December 6, 2019. The Spartans defeated the Badgers 3-0.
Players celebrate a goal by forward Tommy Miller (12) during the game against Wisconsin at the Munn Ice Arena on December 6, 2019. The Spartans defeated the Badgers 3-0. —
Photo by Connor Desilets | The State News

Coming into the weekend, Head Coach Danton Cole experimented with different line combinations at practice, and it paid off in the Spartan’s (8-7-1) 3-0 win over No. 19 Wisconsin (7-10-1) Friday night. 24 hours later, the same two teams would go at it again, with the green and white looking for the series sweep.

Fueled by a three-goal third period and production from their top line, MSU was able to put away the Badgers 5-4 in overtime, completing the weekend sweep. Junior forward Mitchell Lewandowski and senior center Patrick Khodorenko both had two goals for the home team, with Khodorenko’s second goal completing the comeback in OT.

“That was exciting,” Cole said. “We’ve said it a lot, I like these guys. They battle and they don’t give up, and good things will happen. (We kept) pushing and pushing in the third period. It was a good weekend.”

Both teams were anxious to get on the board early. Five minutes into the first period, Lewandowski brought the puck in through the left side of the offensive zone, with senior captain Sam Saliba trailing right behind him. With just one defender on him, Lewandowski dropped the puck back for Saliba, giving him a clear shot on net. Saliba’s shot was turned away by U-W goaltender Jack Berry on what ended up being one of the Spartan’s better scoring chances of the period.

It would be the Badgers who would ultimately strike first. With nine minutes remaining in the first period, U-W forward Tarek Baker intercepted a Spartan pass behind the net. His teammate, center Ty Pelton-Byce, immediately rushed the slot and put home the pass from Baker to finally give U-W a goal against senior goaltender John Lethemon and a 1-0 lead heading to the locker room after the opening period.

Michigan State didn’t waste any time as play opened up in the second period. Just a minute and a half in, the Spartans weaved their way into the offensive zone, with sophomore defenseman Dennis Cesana being the main puck carrier. Cesana fed a pass to Saliba, who quickly redirected the puck to Khodorenko in between the faceoff circles. Khodorenko’s initial shot on net was saved, but the rebound came right back to him and he was able to capitalize, scoring his seventh goal of the season and tying the game 1-1.

U-W forward Cole Caufield gave the Badgers the lead eight minutes later. With 10:06 to go in the second, the Montreal Canadiens prospect roofed a shot past Lethemon on another pass from behind the net to give the visiting team a 2-1 lead. Fast forward to the 2:27 mark of the period, and Caufield would get his second of the game, scoring on a breakaway to add to his team’s lead. The Spartans would head into the final frame down 3-1 despite outshooting Wisconsin 28-23 after forty minutes.

Lewandowski would cut the two goal deficit in half early in the third period. Entering the zone with just one defender between him and his fourth goal of the season, he maneuvered his way into open space and fired a shot past Berry to trim the Badger lead to 3-2 with 17:12 remaining in the game.

Five minutes later, junior captain Tommy Apap was sent to the penalty box for a minor tripping penalty. Just nine seconds into the ensuing Wisconsin power play, Saliba took the puck up the right side of the ice, blew by the U-W defenseman, and scored the short-handed goal to tie the game 3-3. The crowd at Munn Ice Arena instantly came to life, feeding into the Spartans' momentum.

That momentum would carry the green and white to a 4-3 lead with 6:28 to go in the game. During 4-on-4 play, Lewandowski got his second goal of the night, shooting one from just inside the blue line that hit Berry’s shoulder and trickled in. Wisconsin would pull Berry and gain the extra attacker with just over two minutes remaining in the game. As time winded down, the puck stood still near the point and the Spartans came close to clearing the puck and securing the victory. U-W defenseman Wyatt Kalynuk had other plans, grabbing the puck and taking it to the top of the left circle, where he sent a shot over Lethemon’s right shoulder to tie the game at four and send it to overtime.

With 2:30 to go in OT, the comeback came full circle as Khodorenko picked up his second of the game, sending a shot into the net that went bar-down and completed the weekend sweep for MSU.

“It was obviously an awesome third period from everyone,” Khodorenko said. “It’s always tough when you’ve got that win in the bag with twenty seconds left and they come back and score. We just (have) to figure it out and keep it steady.”

Michigan State will have two more games before a two week holiday break, hosting No. 20 Arizona State at Munn Ice Arena next weekend for another weekend series. Game 1 is set for 7 p.m. on Dec. 14.

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