The First Three Periods, a Success

If the Spartans looked at Friday night’s contest against the Buckeyes as the start of a six-period game, the first three periods were a dominant success.

Four different Spartans registered goals and Jake Hildebrand registered 33 saves in a much-needed 4-1 win in front of a capacity crowd at Munn Ice Arena.

“Overall, I thought it was a pretty good start to the weekend,” head coach Tom Anastos said. “It was nice to see four pucks go in the net and it was nice to see us win special teams tonight. I don’t want to get too excited about it. It’s three periods of six. At intermission here, it was a pretty good first three periods overall.”

The Spartan power play went 1-for-2 while the penalty kill was a perfect 4-for-4. Michigan State has now killed 19 penalties in a row.

Matt Berry made a big impact in his return to the lineup, scoring a goal and an assist. The senior from Canton missed the last six games due to some off-the-ice issues.

“It just felt good to get back out there with my teammates,” Berry said. “It took a couple shifts to get the rust off, I haven’t played in a while. After that, I felt good and my line mates helped my a lot tonight.”

Berry’s goal opened the scoring early in the second period on a wrap-around that squeezed its way between the post and goaltender Christian Frey’s right pad. It was Berry’s eighth of the season and his first since the second game of the series against Princeton back on Nov. 29.

Brent Darnell doubled the lead less than 13 minutes later with his fifth of the season on a quick wrist shot just above Frey’s left pad right off the faceoff. Darnell also notched two assists, giving him 10 points in the last seven games.

David Gust got the Buckeyes on the board 2:46 into the third period on a no-look backhand pass from Nick Oddo behind the net.

“It hurt giving up that early one in the third, but I think we responded well to that,” Darnell said.

Michigan State would get the all-important third goal minutes later on just their second power play of the night.

Mackenzie MacEachern snapped his six-game goal scoring drought as he buried his own rebound inside the crease to give the Spartans a 3-1 lead.

Under Anastos, the Spartans are now 46-7-5 when scoring at least three goals.

The two-goal lead held until late in the third when Ryan Keller made it 4-1 with 48 seconds left.

The Buckeyes iced the puck and called a timeout with 55 seconds left. On the ensuing faceoff, the puck found its way to the front of the net where Darnell tried to score between the legs, but instead passed the puck to Keller, who was camped out at the right post. Keller made no mistake and popped the water bottle, giving him his third goal in the last six games.

“We were pretty good for the majority of the game,” captain Michael Ferrantino said. “I thought we had good energy. I thought everyone was pulling the rope tonight. It’s huge for us to get everyone in and get contributions from all over the place.

Despite the big win, the Spartans know the importance of the next three periods.

“How we played Saturday night at Penn State, it sat with us all week and it made us miserable,” Anastos said.

The Spartans have had trouble all season in closing out opponents and putting together two strong games in a series.

“I liked the business-like tone of the locker room after the game tonight,” Anastos said. “I want our guys to focus most on the energy, the effort, the emotional level, and the intensity level of their focus when the puck drops. Then let’s just play.”

The win temporarily catapults Michigan State into third in the Big Ten standings, which makes the next three periods all the more important.

“I’m most focused on the effort, because the effort is what leads to the potential result you want,” Anastos said. “I don’t want to think about the result. I just want to go out and have a darn good effort and see where things fall. Now we have a little intermission until period four. Then we’re going to focus on period four.”

Period four starts Saturday night at Munn Arena.

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

Photo: Brian Bobal/Impact Sports