Spartans’ power play too much for Gophers to handle

EAST LANSING, Mich. – Michigan State welcomed in Minnesota to a unusual Saturday and Sunday home set. While the snowy conditions might have slowed down folks getting into Munn Ice Arena, it didn’t stop the Spartans from capturing their second win in a row. MSU buzzed to a 5-3 win behind a solid performance from John Lethemon and a heroic effort from the KHL line.

“It was a good hockey game,” said Michigan State head coach Danton Cole. “After the first couple shifts for everybody, the guys played really well.”

For the majority of the first period it looked like Michigan State was en route to another home loss Minnesota’s Sammy Walker scored five minutes into the period and the Spartans looked flat. The energy MSU was looking for, they found via the power play.

The Spartans tallied three power play goals and two of them came in the final six minutes of the first period. The first came on a pretty play from sophomore Mitchell Lewandowski where he redirected Taro Hirose’s shot past Golden Gophers goalie Mat Robson.

“[The] power play has kind of struggled for a month,” said winger Mitchell Lewandowski. “It was definitely nice to get three tonight.”

Two minutes later Patrick Khodorenko gave the Spartans the lead for the first time with a wrister from the slot. Another power play goal, this one finding the net seven seconds into the power play.

The power play wasn’t the only Spartan special team unit to have a big night. The penalty kill unit killed off five of six Gopher power plays, keeping Minnesota from cutting into the Spartan lead. The PK unit looked different, as Hirose saw some of his first minutes this season on the penalty kill.

“The trust of coach to have us out there is huge,” said Hirose. “It builds momentum when we don’t have to sit on the bench for two minutes.”

Hirose and linemates Khodorenko and Lewandowski were dominant again. Before Minnesota goalie Mat Robson was pulled for an empty net with two minutes left, they had contributed to each of MSU’s goals on the night. That dominance was on display on the Spartans third goal as the KHL toyed with the Gophers’ defense for about 50 seconds before giving the Spartans a 3-1 lead with 5 minutes left in the second period.

“That was a big shift and a big goal for us,”said Taro Hirose.

The third period could’ve been a refereeing clinic as there were five penalties between the two teams. The Spartans took four penalties which allowed the Golden Gophers to get chances on net but John Lethemon stood tall, as he made 36 saves on 39 shots on net.

Cody Milan added another power play goal with 10:24 in the third period, finishing a mad scramble in front of the net which put the out of the reach for Minnesota.

Even as Minnesota scored 3 goals to cut the deficit to one with 4:23 left in regulation it wasn’t enough.

Minnesota pulled Robson with two minutes remaining, the Gophers couldn’t find the equalizer which lead to Jerad Rosburg adding an empty netter with 11 seconds left to give Michigan State a 5-3 win.

The Spartans take on the Gophers tomorrow at 5 p.m. to close out the series.

“You can’t win them both, if you don’t win on Friday,” said Danton Cole.