It was not glamorous, it was not easy, but with an emotional 2-0 shutout Saturday night, the Spartans were able to accomplish something that has eluded their grasp for more than a calendar year, a sweep.
“It never comes easy, but it was nice to get a second win at home and finally complete the six periods,” head coach Tom Anastos said.
Both Ryan Keller and Brent Darnell continued their torrent pace with a goal apiece. Jake Hildebrand earned his sixth shutout of his career and second of the season after turning aside 22 Ohio State shots.
“I felt good, I didn’t have too much to do tonight,” Hildebrand said. “They kept the play in the other zone most of the game which is huge. Give credit to our forwards and defense.”
The game started much the same as Friday night’s bout, but by the end, it turned into a high-intensity clash.
Down 1-0, a pair of major penalties by Ohio State in the final 5:11 of the third period crushed any hopes of a Buckeye comeback.
Matthew Weis and Spartan captain Michael Ferrantino collided in the middle of the ice with Weis hitting Ferrantino in the head. After a discussion by the referees, Weis was ejected. Just 3:34 later, Ferrantino was the victim of another hit, this time by defenseman Josh Healey, who checked Ferrantino from behind along the boards.
“If that’s what it takes to get the power play to score another goal, I’ll do that all night long,” Ferrantino said. “Tough to take some of those sometimes, but it’s part of the game.”
Darnell notched the insurance marker 26 seconds after Healey’s major on the 5-on-3 power play, extending his hot streak to 11 points in his last eight games. Josh Jacobs and Matt Berry collected assists feeding Darnell, who ripped a shot from inside the top of the left faceoff circle and beat Christian Frey to the blocker side.
Since the second game of the Minnesota series back on Dec. 6, Darnell leads the team in goals (5) and assists (6).
“He looks to me like he’s gaining some confidence,” Anastos said. “We need a senior like him to contribute to our team for our team to have success. I like the way he’s playing and he has to keep elevating his game each week.”
Keller, the second hottest scorer for the Spartans, broke the ice late in the second period with his third goal in four games. Keller was able to slam home a scramble near the edge of the crease on Frey’s glove side.
“It feels pretty good getting to that confidence going,” Keller said. “Playing with (Darnell) who’s hot too helps, so we’re clicking on and off. We’re going to try and keep it that way and keep it simple because it seems to be working.”
“He’s playing with a lot more poise,” Anastos said. “You can’t give people confidence, you have to earn it. We talk about it in practice all the time, you want to score, you have to go to the tough areas. He’s been doing that.”
The biggest boosts the Spartans got came after solid penalty kills. Keller’s goal came just 46 seconds after the Spartans killed off a tripping penalty to Josh Jacobs.
In the third period, the Spartan penalty kill gave another boost in killing off a too many men on the ice penalty. Ohio State maintained a high-pressured attack for most of the two minutes, but the Michigan State defense would not fold.
“The D played great tonight,” Hildebrand said. “It was huge tonight, guys were blocking shots. I think it was just an all around team effort tonight.”
“The penalty killing unit is becoming a momentum changer for us and something that’s been pretty reliable,” Anastos said.
After a tumultuous weekend against Minnesota, the Spartans have now killed off 21 consecutive penalties. The kill seemed to frustrate the Buckeyes who took the pair of major penalties just minutes later.
As the horn sounded, the Spartans got a standing ovation from the second consecutive sold out crowd at Munn Arena. The six points earned in the series sweep puts Michigan State third in the Big Ten standings with 13 points, three points behind Penn State and five points ahead of Minnesota.
It was a fitting response after a tough road loss a week ago.
“It feels awesome, I think the entire week our team was not happy with how we played at Penn State on Saturday,” Hildebrand said. “We had a bad taste in our mouth and we had a good hard week of practice and we came here got the job done this weekend.”
The Spartans have a handful of days to prepare for the next game, a clash with the Big Ten leading University of Michigan at Joe Louis Arena Friday night.
Brian Bobal is the co-host of Behind the Mask for Impact Sports
Photo: Brian Bobal/Impact Sports