Michigan State (2-3-1) fell 4-2 Friday night to No. 5 Minnesota (6-0-0) at Munn Ice Arena, sealing a two-game road sweep for the Golden Gophers.
Lots of changes were made to Head Coach Danton Cole’s lineup Friday night. Freshman forward Kristoff Papp was scratched for the first time this year as the usual third line of Jagger Joshua, Tommy Apap and Brody Stevens was elevated to the second line.
Sophomore Nicolas Müller and senior Mitchell Lewandowski moved down to the third line with Müller sliding over to center from his usual right wing position. The two of them were joined by winger Kyle Haskins who was elevated from the fourth line. Senior Jake Smith made his season debut as a right wing on the fourth line and senior Gianluca Esteves entered back in the lineup for the first time since Nov. 28 as an extra skater.
The trend of slow starts continued for the Spartans on Friday. The Golden Gophers controlled the entire first period. Five minutes into the game, Minnesota scored off the stick of Ben Meyers, his second goal of the series.
MSU did not register a shot on goal for the first half of the period until Apap was able to get one to test Minnesota starting goaltender Jack LaFontaine.
Like Thursday night, Minnesota added to their first period lead making it 2-0 on a goal from a crashing Jaxon Nelson as the Spartan defenders left him unmarked watching the puck.
Before things got out of hand, MSU responded 19 seconds later.
A goal from Haskins cut the lead in half, giving the Spartans hope going into the first intermission. The goal was the Huntington, Vermont, native’s first of his young career in green and white.
After a nearly clean first period by both teams, Michigan State’s Charlie Combs was called for a hooking penalty with 3.5 seconds left. The Spartans killed the penalty in the second period. Minnesota had their fair share of shots, but MSU was able to win a few defensive faceoffs to clear the puck.
Shortly after killing the penalty, defenseman Dennis Cesana floated into the offensive zone, got a pass from top-line center Josh Nodler in the slot, and lifted it over LaFontaine’s stick, tying the game at two.
The offense finally started to click in the second period for MSU, as they registered 15 shots to Minnesota’s 14. However, penalties hindered their chances at a comeback Thursday and played a part again Friday.
Müller was called for a tripping penalty just past the 14-minute mark and it took four seconds for Minnesota to regain the lead on a tip from Scott Reedy.
Similar to the first period, there was a last minute penalty in the second but this time it was Minnesota’s Sammy Walker that was guilty. The Spartans had just under 90 seconds of a power play in the beginning of the third period but were unable to find another game-tying score.
The rest of the period went back and forth with neither team adding to their score. Michigan State had some solid chances including a two-on-one attack by Haskins and Lewandowski that LaFontaine stopped.
Cole pulled starting goaltender Drew DeRidder from net with 1:43 left in the final period in favor of the extra attacker. Right wing A.J. Hodges had two solid one-time chances but sent both of them wide of the net. The Gophers put the cherry on top with an empty net goal by Sampo Ranta, giving Minnesota a sweep on their first road series of the year.
The offense was stronger for Michigan State on Friday, generating 33 shots after a measly performance Thursday.
A key battle for the game came in the faceoff circle. Coming into the series, the Gophers and Spartans were the top two teams in the country in terms of faceoff win percentage. In the land of moral victories, Michigan State won 23 more draws across the two games including a dominant performance Friday night where they out drew Minnesota 42-23.
DeRidder made 32 saves while slipping his record to 2-3-1 on the season while LaFontaine improved to a perfect 6-0-0 record.
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Minnesota now moves to 6-0-0 for the first time since the 2001 season and will travel down the road to Ann Arbor to take on Michigan next week. Michigan State will have a quick turnaround as the Wisconsin Badgers will come to town for games Tuesday and Wednesday night.
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