In the history of the Big Ten Tournament, not a single No. 7 seed had ever advanced past the first round. Through 55 minutes of play, Michigan State was in a position to do so holding onto a 1-0 lead.
But a late third-period goal and an overtime winner led to a 2-1 defeat for the Michigan State hockey team at the hands of the second-seeded Minnesota Golden Gophers in the opening round of the Big Ten Tournament.
Coming off of one of their better performances in a loss against Wisconsin, the Spartans carried some of that momentum into Sunday’s game and really played well enough to win. MSU freshman goalie and starter Pierce Charleson had a career-high 48 saves in a stellar performance that nearly helped MSU pull off the upset.
“It was a hell of an effort,” head coach Danton Cole said after the game. “We played two really good teams in the last two games and both were 2-1 games, pushed them both pretty hard to the limit and did a lot of really good things. I want them to think of things on the negative side, how disappointing that is to be that close here in a playoff game and trying to get to the next night, but also positively in carrying forward.”
MSU strikes first but can't hold on
With just four power-play goals on the season and an opponent that does not commit many penalties, an MSU power-play goal was probably not the way many envisioned the scoring to start out.
Minnesota’s Ryan Johnson was whistled for tripping and sent to the box midway through the first period. Then on the power play, junior defenseman Dennis Cesana threw the puck on net from a tight angle that snuck past Minnesota starting goaltender Jack LaFontaine for a rare MSU power-play goal and their first lead all season.
The second period was controlled mostly by the Golden Gophers, but a few counterattacks by the green and white kept LaFontaine on his toes.
A great chance for the Spartans came on an MSU odd-man rush with forwards Kyle Haskins and Adam Goodsir. Haskins fired the puck on the net, but LaFontaine could not handle it cleanly. Goodsir came flying in from the opposite side of the ice, but a bouncing puck went just over his stick for what was a wide-open net.
Then with the second period winding down, Spartan forward Charlie Combs blocked a shot in the defensive zone, which sprung himself on a short break away. LaFontaine made the save, but the damage was still done to Minnesota as Minnesota star defenseman Brock Faber crashed hard into the boards on the backcheck.
The finalist for Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year went to the locker room on his own power, but would not return to the game.
With five minutes to play, Minnesota was finally able to even the game up on the stick of forward Bryce Brodzinski. He carried the puck into the zone to the left of Charleson, circled around the face-off dot and then fired a heater into the back of the net.
Minnesota continued to put on lots of pressure following the game-tying goal, but Charleson held on strongly and the game went into five-on-five overtime.
Both teams battled for 10 minutes of overtime with both teams getting chances to end the game. It was Minnesota’s first overtime game of the season and when you need an important goal like that, why not turn to your team’s leading scorer, Sampo Ranta.
With 10:35 to play, Ranta fired a magnificent shot from the slot on a feed from forward Jaxon Nelson that went over the right shoulder of Charleson to give the Gophers the dramatic victory.
“It just kind of came off of my pad weird,” Charleson said. “I just kind of followed it out and saw where it was going right to that guy's tape, so I just tried to get as much of my body over there as I could and just try and get in front of it.”
Michigan State's defense was also positive, led by the penalty-killing unit that held Minnesota scoreless on three attempts. 50 shots on goal certainly are not ideal, but MSU did a good job of limiting dangerous scoring chances for Minnesota while also blocking 28 shots.
“We knew it was going to take a great effort," Cole said. "Their ‘d’ are really involved in the play. Forwards and ‘d’ both have to be involved, blocked shots have to be involved in that. I thought our guys did a great job with it. Towards a little bit in the third-period they started getting a little run on shots and then in the overtime we had some trouble with some clears. But overall, we did a good job.”
With the loss, the season now comes to an end for the Spartans. Minnesota advances into the semifinals and will face the winner between Michigan and Ohio State.
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