After a miserable two months without a win, Michigan State finally broke the streak with an enthusiastic 2-1 win over Penn State on home ice.
It was the regular-season finale, and given the opponent and MSU’s hysterical Big Ten Tournament record, it felt like that was the Spartans' best chance to pull through.
The weight of finally getting one back in the win column is finally off the shoulders, but the question now turns to whether or not Michigan State can build upon the win. MSU didn’t need the win for the standings, but sending the seniors off the right way and fostering momentum before the Big Ten Tournament is exactly what kept Michigan State motivated.
“We've been working for a long time now and we didn't really see any payoff results,” senior defenseman Christian Krygier said. “So it's always nice to end the year with a win and to build off that. And then obviously going into the playoffs, we know we can do it. I think it was good to get that clarification and then just take what we did well out of the weekend and work out what we didn't.”
To say the last two months have been gloomy may be an understatement. The extended absence of fifth-year forward Mitchell Lewandowski and junior forward Griffin Loughran were easy cop-outs, but the different ways MSU found ways to lose was maddening; blown leads, numerous goals banked off Spartan skaters, putrid turnovers and undisciplined penalties were a few. Mostly, it was the inconsistent play from period to period that cast the spell.
All those mixed in a pot stewed together a 13-game losing streak, one-off from tying a program record.
“It's tough to come to the rink – not that anyone's discouraged or anything – but it sucks losing,” senior goaltender Drew DeRidder said. “And you want to win. Everything's great when you win.”
One of the most encouraging aspects of Saturday’s win was the Spartans’ ability to hold onto a lead. During the losing streak, MSU led at some point in six of the 13 games, only to see the lead squander.
Penn State attacked ferociously in the third period, outshooting Michigan State 20-2. The Spartans were on their heels for the full 20-minutes. At 5:51 of the third, Krygier got a five-minute major and game misconduct for checking from behind. MSU seemed bound to blow another lead and lose another game.
Instead, the Spartans registered seven blocked shots on the kill and DeRidder made a flurry of heroic saves. Junior forward Jagger Joshua even got in on a shorthanded breakaway, nearly blowing the roof off the building.
It was inspired play from Michigan State that rarely lasted more than three minutes during the losing streak.
“That was one of the best penalty kills I've seen,” DeRidder said. “That could have been bad for us. We held on and we did a great job. We blocked a lot of shots, we cleared pucks when we got the chances and that was huge.”
With the conference tournament and a first-round meeting with No. 5 Michigan just hours away, there isn’t an abundance of time to bask in the glory of MSU’s first win of 2022. The win certainly felt good for 24 hours, but the team has quickly turned its attention to the school down the road.
“You just feel way better on Saturday night,” MSU Head Coach Danton Cole said. “Obviously it was a good feeling even Sunday morning.”
It will be a steep, uphill battle for Michigan State with the need to pull off two wins in three games in Ann Arbor. The Spartans haven’t won at Yost Ice Arena since 2018 and have won just six times under Cole. Even more mind-boggling, Michigan State also has never won a single Big Ten Tournament game since its inception in 2013-14.
MSU has dropped all four of its matches with U-M this season, with three out of the four losses being from at least four goals. The glimmer of hope stems from Lewandowski, who missed all four of those games with injury. His return to the lineup Feb. 18 has helped rejuvenate the Spartan offense and brought back a key leader to the dressing room.
Lewandowski has played in seven Big Ten Tournament games. He’s yet to win a playoff game but has an idea in mind of what it will take.
“We’re gonna have to be physical,” Lewandowski said. “We’re not turning into a skills competition but a man’s game.”
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