Spartans Bounce Back with Thrilling Tie Saturday Night

The difference between Friday night’s game and Saturday night’s game was night and day. Brent Darnell scored twice and Jake Hildebrand had a strong bounce-back game with 21 saves in leading the Spartans to a thrilling 3-3 tie against Minnesota. Michigan State would go on to win the shootout to gain the extra point in the Big Ten standings.

It was one of the best team games of the season according to head coach Tom Anastos, one night after one of the worst for the Spartans.

“No doubt, I thought from the start of the game to the end of the game that was our best game of the season,” Anastos said. “[Friday] night was by far one of the most disappointing losses of the season. To our guys’ credit, they really answered the bell.”

It did not take long to give the Munn Ice Arena crowd something to celebrate Saturday night, as the Spartans got on the board with a power-play goal just over two minutes into the game.

Villiam Haag took a shot from the faceoff circle to Adam Wilcox’s right and the rebound fell right to Darnell’s stick. He spun around and buried his second of the season.

The goal snapped Wilcox’s shutout streak, minus shootouts, of 175:08 against the Spartans.

The Spartans remained up 1-0 until Haag went to the box for slashing. The Gophers would cash in with their fourth power-play goal of the weekend. Seth Ambroz teed up a one-timer to Connor Reilly in the high slot and Reilly blasted the puck high blocker side on Hildebrand at 15:39.

Just 1:58 later Minnesota took the lead, as Kyle Rau deflected a one-timer from Connor and Mike Reilly on the edge of the crease.

In the last minute of the period, John Draeger sent a pass that sprung Joe Cox and Mackenzie MacEachern on a two-on-one. Cox dished the puck to MacEachern in the slot and he buried it just outside the reach of Wilcox’s right pad to tie the game with 23 seconds in the period.

“I think it was huge not just from a confidence standpoint, but from an emotional standpoint,” Anastos said. “We go into the locker room now tied rather than playing a pretty good period and going down 2-1. Those are those emotional shifts that are key in the game and we lost them the night before.”

The back-and-forth play continued in the second period before Darnell put Michigan State back on top after dancing around three defensemen and putting it off the crossbar and in.

The pair of goals was especially sweet for Darnell since he sat out Friday night’s game.

Early in the third period, the Gophers would get even on Connor Reilly’s second of the game. The goal was also Minnesota’s fifth power-play goal of the weekend.

Despite several quality chances, nobody else found the back of the net in regulation and the game went into overtime.

Michigan State took it to the Gophers, outshooting them 7-1 in the five-minute extra period. Minnesota, however, got the best scoring chance and was robbed by a phenomenal save by Hildebrand off of a pass to the front of the net from behind the goal line.

“I tried to get my stick on the pass,” Hildebrand said. “I pushed right out and he hit my glove, so it was the right place at the right time.”

Entering the shootout, Hildebrand and the Spartans were confident after defeating the Gophers twice in a shootout last season.

Michael Ferrantino started the shootout with a goal and Michigan State held a lead until the bottom of the third round when Ambroz tied it for Minnesota. The game raged on.

Matt DeBlouw got his chance to go in the top of the sixth round and made the most of it by beating Wilcox with a snap shot to the low glove side.

Connor Reilly was next for Minnesota and Hildebrand turned him aside to give Michigan State an emotional shootout win and an extra point in the standings.

This marked the third consecutive series against Minnesota where Michigan State lost a game and tied another before winning a shootout.

The Spartans get a few extra days to feel good about themselves before playing Clarkson at Munn on Sunday afternoon.

Brian Bobal is the co-host of Behind the Mask for Impact Sports

Photo: Brian Bobal/Impact Sports