The Michigan State hockey team dropped their seventh consecutive series opener Friday in a 4-2 loss at No. 4 Minnesota.
With four minutes to go in the first period, the Spartans and Golden Gophers were neck and neck. MSU was playing with a lot of energy and determination – enough to possibly pull off the upset over the fourth-ranked team in the country.
But with 3:20 to go in the first, Minnesota broke the scoreless tie when sophomore forward Ben Meyers found himself unmarked and snapped a shot past MSU goaltender Drew DeRidder.
Then, two and a half minutes later, Minnesota scored again on a rocket by sophomore defenseman Jackson LaCombe.
Suddenly after playing a solid opening 20 minutes, the Spartans went to the locker room pondering how they were facing a two-goal deficit.
Midway through the second period, Minnesota scored again on an awkward, slow shot that perhaps fooled DeRidder and trickled into the net.
The goal by senior forward Brannon McManus, who finished the night with a goal and two assists, was a killer for the Spartans who looked to be well on the way to a blowout loss, especially for a team that scores less than two goals per game.
Strong defense and constant offensive pressure by Minnesota kept MSU on their heels and as a result, their offense went completely missing. At one point in the first period, the shots on goal were tied at seven for each team, but then the Spartans went 20 minutes across the first and second period with zero shots on goal - a brutal stretch where it looked very possible Minnesota would hold Michigan State to just two shots on goal in a period like MSU did to ASU last weekend.
Two minutes later, Michigan State saw a glimpse of hope that they probably did not expect. MSU senior forward Mitchell Lewandowski was sent to the penalty box for tripping, giving the Golden Gophers a chance to go up a devastating four goals. But, it was the Spartans captain who decided enough was enough.
Senior centerman Tommy Apap forced a turnover on the penalty kill, raced past a Minnesota defender and made a nifty move flipping the puck past UMN starting goaltender Jack LaFontaine on his stick side for MSU’s first short-handed goal of the season.
Even down one player on the ice, Michigan State was right back in the game.
MSU finished the period off well getting some solid chances on the power play and then some quick shots to start the third period, but the Big Ten’s best goaltender was not letting anything slide.
A turnover by MSU defenseman Christian Krygier in the offensive zone led to a Minnesota two-on-zero breakaway chance. McManus and Minnesota’s leading goal scorer Sampo Ranta did a little tic-tac-toe action and easily extended the lead back to three.
About four minutes later, sophomore center Josh Nodler had a nasty snipe to subtract the lead to two goals again. The Spartans would need two more goals to tie it up, and statistically speaking the odds of MSU simply scoring over two goals was pretty slim; they have only done it four times this season.
MSU had one last chance to complete a comeback with a power-play with 2:44 to go, but some phenomenal saves by LaFontaine secured the 4-2 win for Minnesota.
MSU’s first line of graduate student Charlie Combs, freshman A.J. Hodges and Nodler were some of the few bright spots providing a large amount of the best scoring chances. DeRidder was also solid as usual making 34 saves while under constant pressure from the high-powered Gopher offense.
Despite the outcome of the game, head coach Danton Cole was optimistic about some of the things he saw Friday night.
"Our guys did an awful lot of things right offensively and defensively," Cole said. "Played real hard and stuck with it, found ourselves down but kept battling and did things in the second and third real well. We'll need that same kind of effort tomorrow night."
The Spartans will have a chance to split the series after dropping another game one and will play game two on Saturday at 6 p.m. in the Twin Cities. The game will be broadcasted on Fox Sports Detroit Plus.
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