ANN ARBOR – Michigan State traveled to Ann Arbor to take on the Michigan Wolverines in the first round of the Big Ten tournament. The Wolverines tied the season series at 2-2 after their sweep of the Spartans back in February.
Michigan has been red-hot in the 2020 calendar year, as it only suffered three regulation losses to end the year and earn home ice in the tournament. Friday night, the Wolverines continued their win streak against the Spartans with a 3-0 win in game one of the three-game series.
The first period began with the Spartans holding control of the puck for a majority of the time. But about halfway through the period, the Spartans took back-to-back penalties to give Michigan a 5-on-3 power play. The Wolverines capitalized on that power play with a back door goal from Jake Slaker to give Michigan a 1-0 lead.
Outside of a too many men penalty taken by Michigan, the rest of the period did not have much action at all. Both teams locked down on defense and the Wolverines carried a 1-0 lead into the locker room.
“I thought the first period we were trying to find our legs a little bit,” said head coach Danton Cole. “There’s no time to do that in playoffs, this is the end of the year, we need to know where our legs are at.”
One of the biggest reasons Michigan had success tonight was their goalie Strauss Mann. Once again, he shut down the Spartan offense and kept Michigan State to a goal or less for a third straight time this season. He saved all 25 shots the Spartans got on net.
“He’s not the biggest guy, so we just need to get more shots on him,” said senior center Patrick Khodorenko, talking about Mann. “We just gotta keep doing that, keep him on his toes and shoot pucks at his pads and I think we’ll get a lot more chances.”
Less than three minutes into the second period, Michigan scored again. Once again it was a great read by the Wolverines to find freshman Johnny Beecher on the back door to give Michigan a 2-0 lead. This looked a lot like what Michigan did the last couple times these two teams met. Michigan got the early two-goal lead and locked down on defense to give Mann enough help on the back end so that the Spartans were not able to claw back.
Michigan State got numerous power plays in the middle period, but was never able to close the gap. Michigan increased its lead with its second power play goal of the night with just seven seconds remaining before the second intermission to make it 3-0 Michigan.
A big reason the Spartans fell short was their poor night on the power play. Michigan State went 0-for-5 on the man advantage and never generated any great chances with the extra man.
Michigan State needed to come out in the third period and score fast if it wanted to get back into this one. But they came out flat again, more miscommunications and empty power plays kept the Spartans scoreless and the Wolverines earned a shutout victory at home with a chance to close out the series Saturday. Despite the loss, the Spartans still ended the game with a 25-20 lead in shots and a 33-30 lead in the faceoff circle.
The two teams will play each other again at Yost Ice Arena Saturday night. Michigan will look to sweep the series with a win and move on to the next round of the conference tournament, where the Wolverines will play either Minnesota or Notre Dame. If Michigan State doesn’t want its season to end, they will need to take both remaining games in Ann Arbor.
Follow Kyle Hatty on Twitter @KyleHattyIN.