In front of another packed house at Munn, the Spartans sent an early message that they would not fall into the same trap that caught them the first time they played Wisconsin.
Jake Hildebrand turned aside 21 Wisconsin shots for his fifth shutout of the season and senior Matt Berry recorded two goals as Michigan State rolled to a 3-0 win Friday night and leaped over the .500 mark for the first time since opening night.
With Michigan losing and Minnesota winning, the Spartans now trail both schools by two points for first place in the Big Ten.
Berry broke the ice 11:48 into the game on the powerplay as Mackenzie MacEachern circled the top of the zone and fed a slick backhand pass to Berry, who had a wide open net at the left post. The goal was Berry’s first in 10 games. Despite not scoring, he has still managed eight assists between goals.
“I haven’t been too upset with how I’ve been playing, so I just stick with it and hope the goals will come,” Berry said. “If not, you just have to keep working hard and trying to set other people up.”
The Spartans outshot the Badgers 8-1 in the first period, the fewest shots on goal allowed in one period all season.
Momentum stayed on the Spartans’ side in the second period, although Wisconsin came out firing.
Hildebrand came up with a few big saves to keep the Spartans on top before captain Michael Ferrantino doubled the lead with over five minutes left in the period.
The puck went behind the net to Brent Darnell and he took it to the front of the net, causing a rebound. Ferrantino was cutting to the net and buried his team-leading 11th goal past Wisconsin netminder Joel Rumpel, who made 25 saves. Ferrantino was also 11 of 16 in the faceoff circle on the night.
The knockout blow to the Badgers came early in the third period with Berry’s second powerplay goal of the game and 10th of the season to give the Spartans that magical third goal.
Matt DeBlouw, who won seven of eight in the faceoff circle in the game, turned over the puck in the offensive zone but charged after the puck, took it right back and fed Berry. Then, Berry took the puck to the high slot before rifling a shot high to Rumpel’s blocker side.
“It’s been a while,” head coach Tom Anastos said of Berry’s drought. “In spite of him playing well and creating some goals, goal scorers, and he’s probably the most natural goal scorer on our team, they start to press if the puck doesn’t go in for him. Hopefully he gets real hot.”
Hildebrand and the Spartan defense would handle things from there and the junior goaltender from Pennsylvania made one final emphatic right pad save with one second on the clock to solidify his 9th shutout of his career. In his last 10 starts, Hildebrand has four shutouts.
“I think it speaks a lot about our team defense, our dedication to playing defense,” Hildebrand said. “I don’t think we took our foot off the pedal the entire night. It’s awesome to see that especially as a goaltender, it makes my job easier.”
On offense, the Spartans have now clicked for at least three goals in six of their past seven games. The team is 12-2-1 when reaching three goals this season.
Part of the reason the Spartans have won eight of their last 11 games is that almost every night, someone else steps up.
“I think offensively, we’ve been a much better team all season,” Anastos said. “I think we’ve been better in terms of creating offense and possessing the puck then maybe we’ve been given credit for. Now, some guys are starting to finish a little bit more. It’s nice having the goal scoring distributed. Who knows who it will be tomorrow night.”
Even though the Spartans find themselves just two points out of first place, the focus remained on Saturday night’s contest.
“It’s there, we believe we can do it,” Ferrantino said of the potential for the team to move up to first place. “We’ve believed we can do it for the last few weeks. Once we had a couple sweeps at home we put ourselves right in the race. We just have to be concerned about ourselves and tomorrow night.”
His coach echoed that.
“We’re running out of games to catch up,” Anastos said. “We have to make sure we have a better effort tomorrow than we did tonight if we want to win tomorrow’s game.”
Now the game of “ifs” begins. If the Spartans win and both Minnesota and Michigan lose, the Spartans will head into the final weekend of the season against Michigan with a chance to clinch first place in the Big Ten.
But first, there’s a game to be played Saturday.
“It’s a good start to the weekend,” Anastos said. “I’m sure they’re going to come back really hard tomorrow and tomorrow is a real important game for us.”
Brian Bobal is the co-host for Behind the Mask for Impact Sports
Photo by Brian Bobal/ Impact Sports
Video by Jason Ruff/ Impact Sports