Michigan State split its two-game road series with Penn State, falling 4-2 in game one and winning 4-3 the next night. The Spartans are now in fourth place in the Big Ten standings, just behind Ohio State and ahead of Notre Dame.
Michigan State was competitive in both games, but the Spartans could not overcome special team woes in Friday night’s loss. The penalty kill unit gave up the game winning goal in the third period and the power play failed on both of its attempts.
Penn State lived up to its reputation offensively, tossing pucks at the net at any given opportunity. Senior goalkeeper Drew DeRidder stopped 35 shots on goal, but PSU managed to net three against the senior goaltender. A last-second empty net goal pushed the lead to two and the Nittany Lions skated away with a 4-2 victory.
The Krygier brothers were the only Spartans that managed to score Friday night.
Michigan State decided to switch things up in net Saturday night, as sophomore goalkeeper Pierce Charleson made his fifth start of the season (his first start since the 7-2 loss to Michigan on Nov. 5). The Nittany Lions threw everything they had at the sophomore goaltender, tallying 53 shots on goal by the end of the game. But Charleson stood strong in the crease, letting just three goals into the net. In addition, Michigan State’s defenseman worked to limit quality chances, content to let PSU tee-off from difficult or distance positions. The team also blocked 15 shots.
The offense and special teams units were just as strong. Michigan State scored four goals, finding offensive production from across the lineup. The game winning goal was scored by sophomore forward Kristof Papp in the third period. Not only was it his first game winner, it was also the first goal of his collegiate career. MSU's defensemen continued to find success activating offensively from the blue line, as senior defenseman Dennis Cesana scored his fourth goal of the season in the first period.
On special teams, the Spartans stifled all three of the Nittany Lions power play attempts. Fifth year forward Mitchell Lewandowski converted on one of MSU’s three power play attempts, the only successful attempt of the series. The team’s points leader tacked on an additional two assists on the night.
The series was a massive test for both squads. For Penn State, it was an opportunity to salvage a rocky few weeks, turn the season around and get back in the race for the top of the standings. For Michigan State, it was a challenge to see if the team could carry momentum from the four-game winning streak.
MSU passed that test, now 5-1 in its last six games.
It only gets harder for the Spartans. This weekend, Michigan State heads right back to the road, traveling to South Bend to face off against Notre Dame. It is another key series in the Big Ten race, as the two teams are separated by just two points in the standings.
The series kicks off at 7:30 p.m. Friday night, streamed via the NBC Sports app.
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