Spartans fall late to Buckeyes 5-3

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EAST LANSING, Mich. — Despite a two-goal night by sophomore forward Sam Saliba, the Michigan State Spartans couldn’t overcome the No. 8 Ohio State Buckeyes, who rattled off three goals in the third period to take the second game of the weekend series, 5-3.

The loss marks the first time that Michigan State has lost four straight games all season. All of those games came in a one-week span, the first time the Spartans have played four games in seven days since 1976.

“I thought the guys battled hard tonight,” Saliba said. “Credit them, they’re a good team. We just had a couple of lapses there in the third period and fell behind and a little too late there for us.”

Unlike Friday night’s 4-1 loss, the Spartans were able to strike first on Mitch Lewandowski’s 11th goal of the season. Lewandowski’s shot came in from the lower right circle in front of the net and ricocheted off the arm of Buckeye goaltender Sean Romeo and into the back of the net.

Michigan State had the 1-0 lead for just over six minutes when Buckeye Matthew Weis was able to take a knock home a rebound that ricocheted off a Spartan stick and went right back to Weis. Seventeen seconds later, Ohio State took a 2-1 lead courtesy of Brendon Kearney.

This week has been particularly tough on the Spartans, as multiple times they saw leads vanish in a short span or saw an opponent score multiple goals in quick succession.

“You have to look at them, sometimes they’re breakdowns, sometimes you’re not ready, sometimes it’s odd stuff that happens,” said coach Danton Cole. “Today it was kinda just odd things that happened.”

The second period could be described as Michigan State’s best period of the series. They outshot and, for the most part, took the play to the Buckeyes. They were rewarded with a power-play goal to tie the game at two. Sophomore Logan Lambdin took a quick shot from the right side of the high slot that was deflected in front by Saliba and wound up behind Romeo.

“Lambs [Lambdin] made a good step to the middle and got the shot through, and I was lucky enough to get a tip on that one,” said Saliba.

Entering the third period, the Spartans had a chance to take the lead on a full two-minute power play that was assessed after the end of the second period. Despite some good chances, MSU couldn’t convert.

It was then that the Buckeyes rattled off the first of three straight goals.

The first came on a four-on-four, when John Wiitala ripped a one-timer past Spartan netminder Ed Minney to give Ohio State the lead.

The second came at the 11:00 mark, when Dakota Joshua won an offensive zone face-off and made a great individual effort to get the puck back and roof it short side on Minney. That goal made it 4-2 Ohio State.

The fifth Ohio State goal came 1:52 later from Freddy Gerard, who went bar-down on Minney.

“Coach always says that we’re not going to be a team that’s going to out-skill and out-talent teams,” said senior Carson Gatt. “We need that will and that grit and that physicality and just defending tough and being a tough team to play against.”

Michigan State scored the final goal of the game late in the third period after freshman Brody Stevens made a great effort play in the far corner to elude a Buckeye defenseman. Stevens sent a hard pass to Saliba, who was streaking in the high slot, and the sophomore from Lincolnshire, Ill. made no mistake, taking a quick wrist shot that beat Romeo up high.

It was the first time Saliba has scored a goal since Nov. 2017.

“It was nice, definitely nice to get off the schnide a little bit, but it definitely doesn’t feel as good when you don’t come away with the win,” said Saliba.

Keeping it positive

The first week of 2018 has not been kind to the Spartans, as they have been outscored 20-10 in the span of four straight losses. Michigan State now stands at 8-13-1 overall on the year and 2-9-1 in the Big Ten.

But there is no reason to panic or despair according to Cole, who believes the process of the rebuild is right on schedule.

“When I said at the press conference that there was going to be patience, I kinda think, you know, part of that was telling you guys to have some patience, but a lot of that is talking to myself,” said Cole. “We ask an awful lot out of these guys, and frustration sets in when you start asking guys to do stuff that they can’t do and they can do what they did tonight. And some nights we’ll get a win out of that and we’ll get a couple bounces and a couple more plays.”

Cole said that he and his coaching staff would be at fault if they only harped on what the players did wrong instead of finding and reinforcing the positives to learn and build off of.

Learning lessons have been a key emphasis for Cole since Day One. When asked what the lesion was for this weekend, losing to a top 10 team, Cole said it was the “barrier of entry” to play with and beat a top team.

“How hard you have to play, how good you have to be, how committed and dedicated and the urgency and if we can establish that… If we can establish like we did here tonight every night, then we’ll be alright,” Cole said.

The Spartans will travel to Madison, Wis. next weekend for a series with the Wisconsin Badgers. Puck drop for Friday night’s game will be at 8:00 pm.

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